I've seen the light, and it's killed the mood.
October 24, 2007 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Okay, my neighbors, in Albuquerque, have taken it upon themselves to make use of their security light, keeping it on from 7pm until sunrise, and, well, it's driving me nuts. What options do I have?

It's incredibly bright, as in "if I opened my shades, I'm about to be beamed up to George Clinton's mothership" bright. I don't understand why they don't have it on sensor, but they don't, and to be honest, it's killing the mood in my living room. I take it they're not going to take kindly to me asking them to do something more sensible, but I'll be doing so anyhow.

The problem? They strike me a real private people. To put it another way, they erected an even larger fence than the more-than-adequate one they already have, maybe a week after they moved in - and they're only renting the place. I'd don't have any issues telling it like it is, but given the people, I think I need some advice on rethinking this strategy, and I really don't want to alienate them. And if they're the type who say no, I need to think beyond that.

I really just want to enjoy my living room, lights off, after 10pm. Really.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total)
Don't stockpile all these contingency plans and beliefs that your neighbors are huge assholes until after you've gone over and said "Hi! I'm Don, I live next door... so, how's the neighborhood treating you? Great, great. Listen, can I talk to you about your security light? It's really bright and it shines directly into our house. Do you think we can do something about it? Maybe you could put it on a sensor, or angle it differently?"

And then, if they refuse to do anything about that - but don't assume that they will, particularly if you approach them in a pleasant way - you can call their landlord and explain the problem. But don't start there. They probably don't even know this is a problem for you.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 9:17 AM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

My neighbors did this recently and I live in the country where it's really the only light in the immediate area and it's shining bright as blazes into half of my house. That said, it was NOT shining into my bedroom so before I even talked to them, I was prepared to suck it up if I had to. The points I made, during the day, some regular time when we were both outside doing yardwork, were:

- hey the light you installed basically shines into half my house all night long
- I sort of decided to live here in the country because it's dark at night, among other reasons (easier if it's the first new light in the area)
- I know I should probably install dark curtains but it's really bright even in rooms that have curtains
- I sometimes I have guests in that room where it's shining right outside their window
- would it be possible to turn it off or set it on motion sensor after everyone's gone to bed?
- if not, would it be possible to get a shade that pointed the light further down towards your area and not in mine, or get a dimmer bulb?

As it turns out my neighbor works nights and liked having the light on when he got home at midnight. I said I was usually up late and if he'd flip the switch when he got home, I'd be much appreciative. I make it a point to thank him when I have guests over. I do live in the country so I'm sure norms are different. We're also both house owners, so in your situation you might want to also discuss this with the landlord [i.e. it will be a different discussion depending on whether the tenant did these installs themselves or whether the landlord did it all either at the request of hte tenant or no]

In short - try the friendly "Hey let's try to work out this difference of opinion in a way that works for both of us!" way first and if that doesn't work try to back up somewhat and see what the next steps might be.
posted by jessamyn at 9:20 AM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Um, is there a reason why darker shades won't work? Relatively little fuss/muss, and no need to potentially antagonize anyone.

...I mean, that's what I did when the city put up a freakishly bright light. Cost me all of $20, which is way less than the amount of time it would take to convince anyone to put a blocking shade on that lamp.
posted by aramaic at 9:40 AM on October 24, 2007

Real private renters with high fences and an always-on security light? If you were in Vancouver I'd suggest your neighbours were growing pot. Make sure to be friendly when you go over...and don't look inside!
posted by reformedjerk at 9:47 AM on October 24, 2007

A "really private person" may not be aware of the impact he/she has on others. My guess is that after you politely point out that the light bothers you, you'll get "OhmigoshI'msosorryIdidn'trealize" and it will be over. If not, talk to the landlord.
posted by desjardins at 10:02 AM on October 24, 2007

You could request that they get what is known as a full cutoff shield, which directs all the light downwards and does not let any shine out horizontally from the fixture. There may be local laws about light pollution. You can check out the Dark Sky Association here for more help.
posted by happyturtle at 10:04 AM on October 24, 2007

if the neighbor doesn't listen to reason, you might be able to make a case of private nuisance and get an injunction and damages.
posted by bruce at 10:33 AM on October 24, 2007

A light coating of spraypaint on the light may be enough to dim it so that it doesn't annoy you, but it'd still be on, so they'd be happy. ya dig?
posted by rbs at 10:43 AM on October 24, 2007

FYI, for those who are interested in the issue of light pollution, this article from the August 20 issue of the New Yorker is a great read. You might want to slip a copy in your neighbor's mailbox; you'd be surprised at who can be susceptible to liberal guilt.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 11:19 AM on October 24, 2007

Expensive, fancy, permanent, but very-cool option:

Two panes of polarized glass block light if one of the panes is rotated 90 degrees. If you devise a system whereby you can easily slide the rotated panel over the other section, and easily slide it back, you can block light one moment, and then have normal (albeit slightly darker) windows the next.

Cheap, but very workable, solution:

When I worked nights, tin foil worked very well for me: blocks light, easily moldable, cheap. You could probably cover it with some cloth if it seems gauche to you.
posted by koeselitz at 11:24 AM on October 24, 2007

Figure out what might be needed to solve the problem. Lower wattage? A shield of some kind? A different type of fixture? The neighbor is probably going to be perfectly willing to modify his lighting (especially if you'll pay for all or part of the modification), but he's not going to know what the options are or what result would be acceptable to you. There's no sure way for you to know ahead of time, either -- but if you approach him with some ideas, you'll likely neutralize any resistance or hesitation on his part.
posted by wryly at 11:36 AM on October 24, 2007

> Real private renters with high fences and an always-on security light? If you were in Vancouver I'd suggest your neighbours were growing pot

That's what I thought when I read your question, too. If that's the case, though, they probably won't open the door if you go over there.
posted by Listener at 12:00 PM on October 24, 2007

The neighbor has no right to shine a bright light into your house. I'd certainly go with the polite conversation route first, but I would not ever consider helping fund the solution. That is their responsibility to make sure their night light is not a nuisance for the neighbors.

If don't respond to the carrot, then pull out the stick and go to the landlord. Document everything you are doing and then go to the police. Odds are there is a law that gives you leverage as most towns have some sort of catch all nuisance law that you can use for relief.
posted by COD at 12:12 PM on October 24, 2007

If they are renters and won't do anything after you bring it up with them cordially, perhaps discuss this with the landlord of their house?
posted by jeanmari at 12:14 PM on October 24, 2007

A friend of mine had a neighbor with a really bright outdoor light that kept shining into his house. He asked the guy nicely to put it on a timer or lower the wattage. His neighbor consistently refused. No means of persuasion would convince him to not have that light shining all night long. A couple of months go by. Then all of the sudden, some neighborhood kids kept coming by in the middle of the night and throwing rocks or something at the light and breaking it. Broke it once and the neighbor replaced it right away. Broke it again and he waited a couple of weeks and then replaced it. They broke it a third time and the neighbor just said "fuck it" and left it broken.
posted by ND¢ at 12:29 PM on October 24, 2007

Put up a canvas or plywood barrier on your side of the fence. A volleyball net with canvas on it, for example. It might be ugly, but it will fix the light problem.

If the neighbor is uncooperative and I wanted to be a dick about this, I'd go out there at 1 am and quickly unscrew it, return at 3 am, foul up the lamp's seat with an insulative adhesive gel, and screw it right back in. But I'm not recommending this.

I nix the idea of getting cops involved... they'll laugh and tell you it's a civil matter.
posted by zek at 12:43 PM on October 24, 2007

You can also call City Hall and see if there are any light ordinances. Some towns have them.
posted by theora55 at 1:11 PM on October 24, 2007

In most US cities, "light trespass" is a crime if they refuse to take it down. Check your local ordinances like everyone else said.
posted by bradbane at 1:30 PM on October 24, 2007

Uh, really though, is there a reason simply using thicker shades won't work? It's not pricey, it doesn't have to clash with your decorating scheme, it won't keep you from being able to look out your windows....

Is there really a need to get all passive-aggressive here?

I mean hey, I'm all for irritating everyone just for the sake of being an asshole, but you do live next to these folks so they can sure as hell return the favor if you piss 'em off. And guaranteed, busting out a nuisance clause will piss them off.
posted by aramaic at 1:43 PM on October 24, 2007

Well, our neighbor snuck into our yard one night and put a metal baffle over the side of the light that was supposedly illuminating his back yard or blinding him when he parked or some damn thing. (in our defense, his back yard is 40 feet from the light, across an alley, with our garage and his garage in between and it's a 40 watt regular light bulb. I guess he's light sensitive).

Your situation sounds more critical, but maybe you could try something like this. I would ask him first however. I'd have been happy to cooperate with this guy, but was a little creeped out that he helped himself, as it were.

We didn't even notice for several days, until he asked if it bothered us.
posted by nax at 2:20 PM on October 24, 2007

Everyone here has some good ideas, but I would prefix "After you try asking nicely" before most of them.

I'm a very private person (and no, I'm not growing pot) but if a neighbor stopped by and asked nicely I'd comply in a second.
posted by mmoncur at 2:33 PM on October 24, 2007

Local ordinances -- Ch.30, Article VI.
posted by katemonster at 3:57 PM on October 24, 2007

for those who don't want to dig:

Sec. 30-186. General requirements.

Searchlights, spotlights, floodlights or lighting fixtures used to illuminate off-premises signs are hereby prohibited. Any other outdoor light fixtures or illuminated on-premises signs installed after the effective date of this division shall comply with all applicable county ordinances and with the following:

(1) All outdoor light fixtures and illuminated on-premises signs shall be (1) designed and operated as cutoff or shielded aimable fixtures, (2) equipped with and controlled by light and motion sensors or automatic timing devices, and (3) shall remain off between 11:00 p.m. and sunrise except for illuminating walkways or driveways.
(2) Outdoor light poles and standards shall not exceed 16 feet in height above existing grade. Public streetlight poles and standards are exempt from this height requirement.
(3) All outdoor lighting fixtures mounted on buildings or structures shall be mounted at a height no more than 16 feet above finished grade.
(4) All outdoor lighting systems shall be designed, or re-designed, and operated so that the area 10 feet beyond the property line of the premises receives no more than 0.25 (one quarter) of a footcandle of light from the premises lighting system.
(Ord. No. 1997-18, § 6, 11-4-97)

looks like this is in your favour. Nth the folks saying 'be nice first' tho.
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:31 PM on October 24, 2007

Uh, really though, is there a reason simply using thicker shades won't work?

Aramaic, this is the second time you asked this and the OP has limited ability to easily reply to an anonymous thread but I'll try to fill in here. For many people, light is one of the environmental aspects that they give a shit about. Maybe they like the evening light outside, or the way the moonlight hits their coffee table, or the way the trees look outside their window. For some people the way the light works in their house -- during the day and at night -- can affect their mood and how they feel about the place. For me, in the country where it's basically dark at night, light feels like noise and brighter lights feel like there's some sort of noise coming in my windows. This may not be what you're like and that's fine, but there's nothing passive aggressive about having a chat with your neighbor to ask if they can adjust the light that is shining in your windows. Dragging out the nuisance clause may be, but most people here haven't advocated that as a first step.

In my situation, even if I put up curtains and/or blinds, they don't really do the trick (i.e. bright light shines in around them and I'd have to put them up in five rooms in my house) and then I have to open them in the morning or the sunlight stays out as well. They also DO keep you from looking out the windows at night, completely. They also block open windows when you're trying to get a breeze in when it's hot out. I'm not totally adverse to this, but it's a less optimal solution than, say, talking to my neighbor. Obviously this is not the case if the city has put a streetlight outside your window, but it's worth seeing if you can have some sort of compromise if you're just talking about two people's yards.
posted by jessamyn at 8:32 PM on October 24, 2007

Anonymous, have you considered that one of the neighbors might work nights or lobster shift and wants the light on when she gets home? (Or he.) Newspaper people, gas station operators, firefighters, nurses, 911 operators, police -- all sorts of people work late hours and odd shifts. Maybe these folks work late or in high-security jobs and want the light and tall fence for safety purposes.

If that's not the case, I like other posters' suggestions to either put dark curtains on your window, or go next door with a plate of homemade Toll House cookies and ask 'em to put a baffle on the light.

Or maybe they're in the Witness Protection Program. Hmm.
posted by Smalltown Girl at 8:48 PM on October 24, 2007

have you considered that one of the neighbors might work nights or lobster shift and wants the light on when she gets home? (Or he.)

and for the rest of you recommending shades, blinds, etcetera...

THIS IS NOT THE POINT. nor is it (to jessamyn's point) really answering the OP's question. snark is never a good answering strategy.

for what it's worth, Albuquerque is a 'dark-sky' community. they have specific laws (cited in the link and my quote above) against this sort of thing. there are many reasons for this, not the least of which, the city actively markets their 'dark-sky' to amateur astronomy buffs, etcetera. people in ABQ spend a LOT of money to ensure they have dark skies and decent viewing.

the point is, blasting the neighbours with light in this particular town is not merely rude, it is against the law, with fines of ~$300 per diem, among other things. i'm positive that if the landlord, in this case, was aware of this, the lighting situation would get addressed, and rapidly.

all that said, there is really no reason for the OP not to just go next door and politely ask to have the thing baffled / put on a timer. BEFORE he/she gets on the high horse with the local civic codes and all, I mean.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:56 PM on October 24, 2007

Anyone suggesting that the OP takes rectifying measures is missing the point. Especially expensive measures that cost more than the damned security light did to the neighbour - what if the neghbour takes down the light? D'oh! It's the neighbour's responsibility to deal with this, but right now he might not realise there's a problem. It's symptomatic of the broader issue of people not taking into account design considerations when installing lighting. It seems easy - and it is, but there are considerations.

There are two possible issues here, and it sounds like you have both going on but it doesn't hurt to check:

1 - Glare. You can see the light source directly from inside your home. At night, a direct view of a light source inevitable causes glare no matter how bright the light fitting in. It doesn't have to be high power at all.

2 - Light spill. The light fitting is shining noticeable illumination into your home. This is not the same as the above. If you stand at right angles to one of the problem windows so that you can't see the light source directly - are the surfaces in the room noticeably illuminated?

It's worth making the distinction because they will both arm you when you speak to your neighbour about this.

Possible answers:

1. Get your neighbour to check the angle at which he's mounted the light. If 2 is happening, he's wasting useful light. By tilting the fitting so that it shines downards more directly, problems 1 and 2 above might be avoided.

2. How high up has he mounted the fitting? Can he lower it by a metre or two (or more). I don't know how his property looks, but a 3m mounting height may be sufficient for his purposes - a lower mounting height will also get around problems 1 and 2 above.

3. Can he move the light fitting into a position that won't bother neighbours. Does his garage protrude from the property allowing him to mount the fitting 90 degrees from its current position?

4. If he is adamant a light must stay in that position then he has demonstrably chosen the wrong light fitting. It's probably a boxy looking metal halide flood - get him to choose an amenity-type fitting, a wall-mounted lantern, perhaps, which has optics built in that distribute light more reasonably.

5. As you suggested a presence detector will reduce the amount of time the fitting is on, but a) this ignores the fact that you shouldn't have this problem at all and b) it will still piss you off, especially in periods of activity when you see this thing switching on and off, on and off, on and off... (I wouldn't accept this as reasonable, for example). This would be a good measure to take in combination with some of the above however.

If you don't feel able to speak to him, why not write him a friendly note and put it through the door. If you explain the problem he might, as a private person, be horrified that he has caused discomfort for a neighbour and rectify it immediately.
posted by nthdegx at 2:44 AM on November 3, 2007

« Older Is Time Machine in Mac OS X 10.5 really a good...   |   SOCKS proxy on OS X. What a bunch of ocks. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.