Holidays & the Law

It is that time of year again, and if you haven’t already, you’ll soon be putting up Christmas decorations. Some folks keep outdoor decorating to a minimum, while others (and you probably know some) go all out.

You may remember the movie, Christmas Vacation, wherein Chevy Chase goes somewhat overboard with the exterior Christmas decorations, nearly blinding his next door neighbors. And while these light shows can be fun and inviting, they may also be breaking local ordinances.

Like noise, light pollution is also recognized as a nuisance by most courts across the country. A nuisance is considered to be any type of conduct that disturbs a neighbor’s use or enjoyment of a property.

Most outdoor lights have shades that prevent them from beaming light upward or outward onto a neighbor’s property. And, in any case, the lamp’s rays should be pointed parallel to the ground. If lighting is installed correctly, you should be able to see only the ground that is lit, and not the bulb.

In normal situations, you should be able to talk with your neighbor about any outdoor lighting that is bothering you while you are on your own property. During the holiday season, this can be a challenge.

Depending upon where you live, it can be almost impossible to shut down your neighbor’s Christmas extravaganza. A couple in Florida was sued by the city on the grounds that the carnival-like atmosphere was incompatible with the neighborhood. Neighbors complained that strangers asked to use their bathrooms, and were even cutting through fenced backyards to see the show.

So, the city sued the couple, and a judge decided that the Christmas light show would stay, and indeed was not a nuisance. The couple were awarded damages, and the city was ordered to pay all legal costs.

Not all municipalities have specific laws about light pollution, but that doesn’t leave you without legal recourse. You may be able to bring a lawsuit on common law nuisance grounds. Hopefully, it won’t go this far.

If you have legal questions, please consult our Online Legal Directory to find an attorney in your area.

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