Not Always Jolly: Holiday Light Display Lawsuits
Many funny holiday movies (most notably, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!) involve over-the-top light displays and the bitter battles they create between neighbors. And it’s not just in the movies, either. Some people put an extreme amount of time, energy, and money into creating beautiful home displays, complete with colorful lights, prancing reindeers, and jovial Santa inflatables. Some people even set their light displays to holiday carols. When people decorate their homes like this, it’s usually to spread holiday joy. However, for the people who live next door to these magnificent displays, things aren’t always so jolly.
Too Much Cheer?
A few years ago in West Palm Beach, one couple got so fed-up with their neighbor’s Christmas lights that they are fileda lawsuit. But when it comes to annoying or intrusive holiday decorations, are there truly realistic grounds for a lawsuit?
If the noise or brightness from a display, or the traffic that it attracts, becomes an everyday problem, it is possible to file a nuisance claim against a neighbor. A nuisance claim is a claim that results from one person’s interference with another’s rights to enjoy their property. Holiday lights are considered a private nuisance, which is what occurs when a person’s use or enjoyment of their own property is hindered by another. If a nuisance claim is successful, the person with the offending lights or display is asked to remove them, or tone down the disturbances.
How To File A Claim
In order to win a nuisance claim, one must prove that
- They own the property, and have suffered some kind of harm
- The display prevents them from the use or quiet enjoyment of their own property
- They did not consent to their neighbor’s actions in creating the display
- The lights are reasonably disturbing to an ordinary person
- The harm of the light display outweighs any public good
However, it is generally difficult to win a nuisance claim. To counter the nuisance claims, the light-owner might claim that taking down the lights would be a violation of their freedom of religion or speech. In other situations, judges are reluctant to interfere in light display cases, out of fear of being perceived as anti-holiday.
Due to these complications, it’s advisable to attempt to have a polite conversation with your neighbor about your concerns. Usually, some kind of compromise can be reached, allowing neighbors to get their valuable peace and quiet while others still get to experience holiday cheer!
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