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Beaumont Business Centres Limited v Florala Properties Limited [2020] EWHC 550

Guy Fetherstonhaugh QC and Elizabeth Fitzgerald, instructed by Dewar Hogan LLP, acted for the successful Claimant in a rights to light infringement case concerning a poorly lit building. The High Court considered, for the first time, the effect of loss of light where a building was badly lit to start with.

The Claimant (‘Beaumont’) was the lessee of an office building in the City of London which it occupied for the purposes of its business, the provision of high class serviced offices and business services. Beaumont sought an injunction, alternatively damages, against the defendant, the freehold owner of the adjacent building. Beaumont claimed that the defendant’s extension of its building had interfered with its rights to light.

The affected part of Beaumont’s building was relatively poorly lit before the infringement, and, like many offices, electric lighting was used. The defendant argued that where a room is already badly lit, making it darker still is not an actionable  nuisance.  It also argued that an interference which translated to only a small amount of loss of rental or capital value should not be regarded as substantial, even though the loss is more than de minimis.

The court rejected this argument. It held that to establish a claim in nuisance Beaumont needed to prove that the reduction in light to its premises had made them substantially less comfortable than before. In practice this meant that it must show that by virtue of the light reduction it was likely to suffer a loss of rental income over the course of its lease which was more than de minimis. It was therefore irrelevant whether the premises were well lit before the reduction.  

The judge, Peter Knox QC, considered whether the Waldram method and its 50/50 rule was still appropriate today. In this case none of the affected rooms moved from ‘well lit’ to ‘badly lit’, so the 50/50 rule was irrelevant. The judge however declined to ignore the Waldram test, finding it a useful starting point. He also had regard to radiance evidence (false colour images and human response images) and found this demonstrated a perceptible reduction in light levels. He then went on to find that the reduction in light did result in a reduction in rents Beaumont received for the affected rooms.  However difficult it was to quantify that reduction, Beaumont had established that the reduction caused a substantial interference to amount to a nuisance.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that Beaumont was simply trying to extract a ransom payment from the defendant, so as to disentitle it from an injunction.  

The judge found that it would be appropriate to grant an injunction ordering the defendant to cut back its development. The premises were, however, occupied by a tenant, who had been granted a long lease after the claimant had first complained about the infringement, but who was not a party to the proceedings. Judgment was accordingly given for Beaumont in the form of a declaration that, as against the defendant, Beaumont was entitled to an injunction and that if, so advised, it might join the tenant to the proceedings to seek an injunction. Failing that, Beaumont would be entitled to damages in lieu of an injunction in the sum of £350,000.

This was the first decision since the ruling of the Supreme Court in Coventry v Lawrence to declare that an injunction requiring demolition of an interfering part of a building was an appropriate remedy in a rights of light case.

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