Beware the Decay Rays!
January 28, 2010 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Our neighbor is complaining our garage is too reflective.

Allegedly, our detached garage is reflecting too much light. The company that owns the property claiming that said reflectivity is causing bodily harm as an envirohazard to the tenants of the home. He further claims that the front of his house is deteriorating at an increased rate due to the additional light.

USA/State/Local Level Law - Is there any law about the reflectivity of structures? Has there been case law about structure reflectivity causing harm to persons or property?

I haven't been able to find anything outside of homeowner association covenants, which we do not have. I'm just interested if I should send the complainant a tinfoil hat along with our attorney's letter. ;-)

Thanks for helping!

Additional info:
I have contacted an attorney who said he had never heard of such a claim. He feels, as we do, that this is an attempt to extract $$ (to the tune of $100K + medical expenses). I'm not overly concerned about the outcome of a case, assuming this could even go to trial.

No, the structure doesn't reflect an unreasonable amount of light. Sarcasm: It has to reflect some light or those of us with eyes wouldn't be able to see it and the Earth would be sucked into the black hole in our backyard.

I'm not heartless nor unconcerned with our impact on the environment/birds/whatever. I specified a special non-reflective finish on the steel because I didn't want any issues for my family being in the backyard during the afternoons. However, the building's reflective qualities are not directly related to my question.
posted by TauLepton to Law & Government (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Getting a lawyer usually shuts these bizzare claims down fast.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:36 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

So what's the question here? Sounds like you think your neighbor's claim is BS and that you're not too concerned about it.

If that's the case just ignore the neighbor.
posted by dfriedman at 12:36 PM on January 28, 2010

In my neck of the woods, that would be covered by your municipal building codes. Call your city inspector's office to find out. If you were in violation your neighbor would have contacted them to do something about it rather than sending a silly letter.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:37 PM on January 28, 2010

Where exactly are you?
posted by randomstriker at 12:37 PM on January 28, 2010

Best answer: Not sure about specific laws, but one of Frank Gehry's buildings had to be sandblasted to make it less reflective following complaints by neighbors (ref)
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 12:38 PM on January 28, 2010

Best answer: Generally speaking, light pollution can be an actionable tort, and the source of the light isn't generally material. It could be reflective, it could be direct. Doesn't matter. But as with any tort, there must be damages before there can be compensation, and, well, come on.

IAAL, and though IANYL, this one of the more bizarre theories of bodily injury which I've come across. Light reflectivity? Really? Wouldn't the, you know, source of the light be a bigger deal? Unless I miss my guess it's called "the sun," and good luck getting jurisdiction over that.

If he sues you, you're going to have to lawyer up, but the tinfoil hat sounds appropriate to me. As does discussing the potential for a cross claim for malicious prosecution, complete with potential Rule 11 sanctions against the plaintiff's attorney. May as well try to get something out of it for your trouble.
posted by valkyryn at 12:38 PM on January 28, 2010

Response by poster: I'm in Colorado. There aren't any local/state/county laws governing this type of thing.

I was wondering if there is any case or law out there in the stratosphere that is the US legal system that could show a precedent. (Or is this so off the wall that they don't ever make it to trial?)
posted by TauLepton at 12:39 PM on January 28, 2010

Best answer: See Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:41 PM on January 28, 2010

If you want actual cases or specific law, you need to get a lawyer, because that's legal advice. No attorney here should give that to you, and no one who isn't an attorney should either.

What I can tell you is that while this sounds dumb as a matter of fact, it does not sound impossible as a matter of law. Trespass no longer requires physical invasion, and both light and noise can constitute pollution under the right circumstances. So I'd say that the odds of making this go away sound good, but 1) it will take a lawyer to do that, and 2) it's not impossible that the plaintiff has a real claim.
posted by valkyryn at 12:45 PM on January 28, 2010

right, but sys rq, the concert hall was acting as a parabolic mirror and heating things up substantially. Doesn't sound like that's happening here, unless the claim that the neighbor's house is deteriorating quickly has something to do about it.

I would go talk to the letter writer and ask what the hell he's talking about, especially regarding the bodily harm bits. Discuss what you think of the merits of the claim, mention that filing a worthless case in civil court doesn't come without possible penalties, and see what happens.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:47 PM on January 28, 2010

You should find out if there are tax subsidy for people who install reflective EcoFoil, petition the county to offer a small property tax subsidy, and make sure all your other neighbors know about it if a subsidy exists. :)
posted by jeffburdges at 12:51 PM on January 28, 2010

Do you have homeowner's insurance? The company needs to be involved.

If the neighbor offered to repaint the garage, what would you say?
posted by megatherium at 12:54 PM on January 28, 2010

Just for curiousity's sake, what is your garage built out of?
posted by hwyengr at 1:02 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Is it a prefab steel building? Sounds like you need a feng shui practicioner, not an attorney.
posted by fixedgear at 1:06 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can we get a picture of your structure that is allegedly reflecting too much light?
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:19 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you want actual cases or specific law, you need to get a lawyer, because that's legal advice.

Determining whether said cases or law apply to TauLepton's specific situation, and if so, how, is legal advice and should only be determined by TauLepton's attorney.

Merely identifying cases or law which might be relevant is not.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:08 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

What is the garage made of and how is it finished?
posted by mmf at 2:34 PM on January 28, 2010

You have not given us enough information. For example, is this a new garage that created a significant set of conditions that did not previously exist? Is the material highly reflective such as galvanized metal? Is the garage sited in such a way that direct sunlight is reflected into windows or onto surfaces that were not previously affected? What gave rise to the complaint? Take the answers to these questions to an attorney that is experienced in neighborhood disputes.
posted by Old Geezer at 2:40 PM on January 28, 2010

I don't want to be rude, but your question is not well-formed. If your question is "is there any law about light pollution," sure, there's law about light pollution. If your question is "how likely is a court to recognize that a typical and ordinary building is a source of light pollution," the answer is: very, very unlikely.
posted by Mr. Justice at 2:59 PM on January 28, 2010

Lets see pictures of the garage?
posted by Sonic_Molson at 3:16 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mr. Justice, this is the question:

USA/State/Local Level Law - Is there any law about the reflectivity of structures? Has there been case law about structure reflectivity causing harm to persons or property?
posted by oneirodynia at 3:19 PM on January 28, 2010

Response by poster: @megatherim: We discussed that option. If the neighbor were to have it professionally painted, with warrenty, then certainly we would allow it.

@munchingzombie: That's the truth here as well. Unless proven otherwise in court, we were within zoning setbacks, building codes and so forth. The plans were approved, a permit was issued and the inspectors were happy enough to pass all inspections.

@DevilsAdvocate: Thank you. Precisely.

@Oneirodynia: Thank you for restating my question. I'm not interested in whether or not the laws/cases apply to my situation specifically. I was merely wondering if any other structure owner had been sued based on the reflective qualities of the structure. The answers for Frank Gehry's structure were exactly what I was looking for. Granted, the issue there seems to have been about heat generation which isn't the case here. However, it's close enough to warrant a Best Answer.

Thanks everyone!
posted by TauLepton at 4:12 PM on January 28, 2010

Note that it doesn't appear that the Gehry Walt Disney Concert Hall situation involved actual litigation. Perhaps that just wasn't mentioned, but all I see are references to "complaints" and Gehry's being "asked" to sandblast. I don't see a reference to a lawsuit.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:58 AM on January 29, 2010

Best answer: Your post reminded me of this article from the Minneapolis newspaper about neighborhood complaints about reflection-related house damage. It's a tough situation all around.
posted by Maarika at 9:15 AM on January 29, 2010

Response by poster: After further research by myself, friends and our attorney, the answer appears to be, "No." There hasn't been a successful suit about detrimental effects of reflective light on a residential structure from another residential structure.

Final Personal Update: The neighbor appears to have a long history of filing all kinds of things with the district court. To quote our attorney, "This guy is one of the mental ones." He has sued and been sued repeatedly over the years. Several lawsuits he filed have been thrown out posthaste with fines imposed by the judge for frivolity. He did write a second letter to us which referenced laws and Constitutional elements that simply don't exist. At this juncture, we have been legally advised to ignore him.
posted by TauLepton at 2:27 PM on May 12, 2010

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