My neighbour is building an extension which I fear will block off my view and my light. It might also affect the privacy of my back garden – is there anything I can do?

  1. Right to a View:

You may have a super view of the mountains or the sea from your window or balcony, but the legal position is that property owners in Ireland have no inherent rights to a view. If the extension or new house being built is actually higher than allowed under the planning approval, that is another matter, and you could contact the enforcement section of the planning authority about that.

  1. Right to Privacy:

The individual or family’s right to privacy is one of the personal rights guaranteed under the Constitution and the right to privacy has been frequently championed by Irish Judges in many cases dating back to the 1940s. In a more local situation such as your back garden being overlooked, what are your rights?

If the extension right beside you needs planning approval, you can object to the plans on grounds the build will displace and ruin your existing privacy. The planning authority will usually be slow to allow any diminution of your privacy and will insist, for example, on velux windows being installed as opposed to dormer windows in your neighbour’s attic conversion. They will never allow a new extension next door to have windows that look directly down into your living areas particularly bedrooms and bathrooms. If your neighbour’s new build is exempt from planning permission but you still feel encroaches on or affects your privacy; you can bring your complaints, in the absence of a neighbourly agreement, to court and apply for an injunction to stop him but this will be costly unless your privacy is seriously affected.

  1. Right to Light:

An extension to a neighbouring property can often lead to disputes between neighbours if the new building affects or seriously reduces the natural light to the house next door. Although there is no automatic right to light, if the new extension is going to substantially reduce the amount of light currently enjoyed by the neighbours, they have the right to oppose and object to the build or in some cases go to court typically to seek an injunction to stop the build.

Traditionally, anyone claiming the right to light had to show that they enjoyed it for a period of 20 years but nowadays the courts are more flexible. Anyone who feels a neighbour’s extension will impact on the light coming into their own house can oppose the planning permission.

Two cases currently winding their way through the High Court in Ireland could have far reaching consequences for planning applications. The first case concerns the extension of a residential building in Dublin 4 which neighbours claim will impact on their right to light and reduce their Building Energy Rating [BER]. They claim the extension will force them to use more heating and artificial light.

The second is a large apartment development in the Dublin 8 area which neighbours claim will completely overshadow existing low rise homes and drastically reduce the amount of light they have enjoyed for several years.

Anyone who fears a neighbouring extension will block or reduce their light should first speak to the neighbour. Very often plans can be altered slightly allowing both parties can find a mutably agreeable solution and avoid an unpleasant and costly dispute. However, if no agreement is reached the next step is to object to the planning application in the local council or apply to the Court.

Anyone considering building an extension should take account of the neighbouring property and the potential to reduce or affect their light when the plans are being drawn up. Although most architects are aware of potential problems, it is advisable to raise it at the early stages to avoid trouble down the road.