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Lansing, Michigan

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David Mittleman
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LED Billboards Shedding A Little Too Much Light on Neighborhoods

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Several new LED billboards have sprung up around the Lansing, Michigan area recently. The high-powered signs are not unique to Mid-Michigan and appear to be the future of outdoor advertising. Despite the impressive new technology involved, many nearby residents don’t think the flashy billboards are such a brilliant idea.

The issue has come to a head in Los Angeles, where the light from LED-powered billboards has some citizens up in arms. In 2002, the city reached an agreement with advertising companies in which the companies agreed not to build any more billboards in exchange for the right to improve existing signs with zoning approval. As a result, many of the city’’s 11,000 billboards now project light twenty-four hours a day, much to the dismay of people living (and trying to sleep) in the area of one of the signs.

Fortunately, offended citizens may have some recourse. One avenue would be to place political pressure on the city to change the zoning laws and put an end to unfettered light pollution. Another possibility might be an action in tort for public or private nuisance.

Nuisance claims are not easy to prove. Mere annoyance or aesthetic revulsion is not enough –– private nuisance claimants must show that the ""quiet enjoyment"" of their property has been unreasonably interfered with. The fact that the city has essentially ratified the billboards with its zoning laws will make it difficult to prove the advertising companies have acted unreasonably. Public nuisance claims are similarly challenging to win. Generally, the conduct must somehow threaten the health, safety, or convenience of a large number of persons, or somehow breach the public peace. The typical nuisance claim usually involves toxic pollution emanating from a factory.

Hopefully Lansing residents will not have to resort to legal action to protect their rights to enjoy their homes. However, if these illuminated signs turn into public eyesores, people should not be afraid to contact city officials or to consider bringing a lawsuit against the offending companies.