When one thinks of a neighbor disturbing the peace and quiet, noise is usually the first violation that comes to mind – music blasting, teenagers hosting a late-night party, or a creaky old garage door. But light can be another equally annoying -- and legally significant -- disturbance. If your neighbor’s houselights, yard lights, or security lights shine into your line of vision, this can ruin your enjoyment of your property. What should you do?
Like noisiness, light pollution is recognized as a "nuisance" by courts in most parts of the United States. A nuisance is a type of conduct that disturbs a neighbor’s use or enjoyment of property. A neighbor who blasts loud music late at night would be an obvious example of a nuisance. In addition, many cities have passed noise ordinances limiting the times or decibel levels at which residents can make noise.
While not all municipalities have specific laws about light pollution, that doesn't leave you without a legal remedy. You could bring a lawsuit on “common law” nuisance grounds.
Most outdoor lights (such as those affixed to porches or garage doors) come with shielding or shades to block the light rays from traveling upwards towards the sky or sideways into neighbors’ property; the lamp’s rays should be pointed parallel to the ground. If you can see a shining bulb from a distance, the light system is poorly designed. You should be able to see only lit ground, instead of the bulb itself.
Your first step should be to walk over to your neighbor’s door, perhaps with a plate of cookies, and nicely explain the situation. It is very likely that your neighbor simply does not realize that, for example, the porch light shines directly into your bedroom window, or that the exterior security light is partially pointed into your lawn. Remember, these lights were probably installed on your neighbor's property in the daytime, and the neighbor has never seen the view from your side of the property.
Explain how the light is affecting you, or invite your neighbor over to your house in the evening to see the result. Chances are, your neighbor will be willing to speak with a contractor about re-pointing the lights or installing appropriate shades to ensure that the light does not “leak” into your property.
Perhaps your neighbor is more resistant, refusing to understand why the light is such a big deal to you. You might offer to split the cost of the shades or the contractor’s consultation fees. This might cost you a few hundred dollars, but that’s at least as much as you’d end up spending in a lawsuit against your neighbor.
If your neighbor doesn't take you up on your offer to pitch in on adjustments, your next move might be to retain an attorney to send a demand letter. A demand letter would outline whatever applicable local statutes or housing association regulations your neighbor is violating through the bright lighting and state your request that the situation be brought into compliance or stop causing a nuisance.
Attorney demand letters tend to get more attention than a simple neighborly request; having seen that you mean business, your neighbor might acquiesce and re-point the lights.
A dispute over lighting could lend itself nicely to mediation. In mediation, a third-party neutral would sit down with you and your neighbor and help you both to craft a solution. A mediator might be able to help generate some ideas where your neighbor could have the security lighting, but in a way that doesn't encroach on your peace and enjoyment of your property.
Finally, if your other requests have gone unheeded, you might need to direct your attorney to file suit against your neighbor for nuisance. Given the time, expense, and annoyance of litigation, this should be a last resort.