01 Dec Holiday Lights and Legal Fights
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Although if you live next door to someone with an enormous, blinding, noisy holiday display, you may feel otherwise. Most people enjoy the elaborate residential displays some families construct during this festive season. However, the holiday lights sometimes do cause problems for their immediate neighbors. Long lines of traffic down the street, trash thrown in yards, and excessive noise are just of few of the less-than-jolly side effects these displays can create. Take this example in Plantation, Florida.
On the other hand, some families who put up what most people regard as reasonable holiday displays can be surprised to find out their neighbors resent their decorations. Neighbors may even take action to attempt to have them removed, leaving the festive homeowners feeling like they’re experiencing a real-life brush with Ebenezer Scrooge. A nuisance claim can put a real damper on the holiday spirit.
Here’s what to do, whether you’re the one with the extravagant decor or the one who has to live near it.
When One Person’s Cheer is Another’s “Oh, Dear”
First, some advice whether you’re the neighbor suffering from insomnia due to an excessively gaudy holiday display, or you’re the one with a popular show of lights that brings cheer to many, except that one grump. Talk to each other! Try to resolve it over a mug of hot chocolate or a glass of eggnog. The neighbor who owns the display of lights can limit the hours it’s on, to use just one example of a neighborly compromise.
Regulations on Holiday Displays
As for legal recourse, there are three major ways these issues are covered. First, if you live in an HOA (Homeowners Association) community, there will be clear rules that govern holiday displays. If you suspect your neighbor has violated these rules, appeal to the board of the HOA and let them take care of it.
Cities and towns have zoning regulations and local ordinances that place some restrictions on this type of residential display. For example, there’s likely to be a noise regulation. So if loud sounds disturb you, you can file a complaint and your neighbor will have to lower the volume or risk a fine.
The third course of action is to file a nuisance claim. If your neighbor’s holiday decor is causing you to lose the peaceful enjoyment of your own residence, there might be grounds to file a private nuisance claim. There are also public nuisances. This would apply if many of your neighbors also feel the display interferes with their safety, welfare, or convenience.
If things have progressed to the stage where you and your neighbors feel a nuisance claim is in order, it’s best to seek the advice of an attorney since these claims are not as straightforward as something like violating a noise ordinance.
How to Handle the Grinch
On the other hand, homeowners have rights concerning what they do with their property in addition to their rights of free speech and religion that can protect their holiday displays. Make sure you follow any HOA guidelines and local ordinances. And remember, your neighbors are your neighbors all year ’round, so if you can live in harmony it’s worth trying to do so.
If someone is upset with you, hopefully, they will reach out and try to talk before taking any action. Try to remain calm and remember that not everyone lives the same lifestyle as you, or even celebrates the same holidays. If they do file a nuisance claim, consult with an attorney.
But let’s hope more people can remember the spirit of the season and work to resolve these disagreements with goodwill to all.