Dealing With Light Pollution From a Neighbor

Rules and remedies regarding light pollution as a neighborhood nuisance.

By , Attorney (Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law)

When one thinks of a neighbor disturbing the peace and quiet, noise is usually the first violation that comes to mind: music blasting, late-night parties, and so on. But light can be another equally annoying, as well as 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?

Light Pollution May Constitute a Legal Nuisance

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, for example, 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.

Alert Your Neighbor to the Light Pollution Issue

Your first step should be to walk over to your neighbor's door and nicely explain the situation. It is 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 during the daytime, and the neighbor has probably 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 take steps to re-point the lights or install appropriate shades.

Perhaps your neighbor will be more resistant, however, 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 could 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.

Send the Neighbor a Demand Letter

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. This 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.

Suggest Mediation

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 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.

File a Lawsuit Based on Nuisance

Finally, if your other requests have gone unheeded, you might need to hire an attorney to file suit against your neighbor for nuisance. Given the time, expense, and annoyance of litigation, this should be a last resort.

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