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How to clean up light pollution

February 01, 2009|Janet Portman | Inman News

Question: All the apartment buildings around mine, including the giant construction site behind my building, have huge floodlights (without any sort of light shade) along the property perimeters. At night the ambient light in my unit is almost enough to read by. Keeping the shades drawn in the summer means that I get practically no fresh air. Are there any restrictions on the wattage of floodlights? Are there any requirements that the floodlights be shaded? Do I, as a renter, have any recourse?

Answer: You're experiencing what's known as light pollution, and controlling it is not on every state's radar. The International Dark-Sky Assn. ( has a database of state light pollution ordinances (type "ordinances" in the query box) and is developing, with others, a model lighting ordinance.

Chances are, however, that your municipality doesn't have a lighting ordinance. But even if you do have an ordinance to back you up, first talk to the surrounding property owners and explain how the light disturbs you. Ask why the lights were installed and whether they are achieving their purpose. Suggest lower wattage and fully shielded lights with a timer and/or motion sensor to light property for security with minimal effect on neighbors.

If gentle persuasion doesn't work, you may try Small Claims Court, where you can sue for the damages you've suffered as a result of the light. If you can rely on an antipollution ordinance, you don't have to prove the illegality of the pollution and can go right to the effects it has had on you. Otherwise you'll need to argue that the light is a legal nuisance (a condition or activity that is harmful to health or morals; it need not be an illegal activity in itself).

If you can interest other neighbors who are similarly bothered by the lights, so much the better. Each of you can sue for damages, which will mean that this Small Claims case will suddenly pose a bigger problem for those you're suing.

-- Janet Portman, Inman News


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