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Living Next Door to Clark Griswold

December 22, 2022

Dave McRae

With Christmas now less than a week away, there will be only a few more days of the year in which to enjoy the holiday-themed lights and displays that decorate so many homes, businesses, and public spaces. This time-honored tradition is one of the most noticeable ways in which people celebrate their holiday spirit.

The majority of community members who put up holiday lights and displays do so in a way that expresses their festiveness, sometimes with a touch of whimsy, without crossing bounds of propriety.  But there are always a few who like to push things to a more extreme level. If you have a neighbor who has set up a holiday display that is just “too much”, say, because it (to name a few examples):

  • Is excessively bright, with tens of thousands of bulbs
  • Includes loud, repetitive, or otherwise annoying music or other noise-generating devices
  • Blinks and flashes into the wee hours of the night, making it difficult for you to sleep
  • Contains elements deliberately intended to shock and offend
  • Contains items mounted on the rooftop that could blow onto neighboring properties if there is a strong enough gust of wind
  • Is unique enough to attract strangers from outside the neighborhood, who create traffic, noise, and litter problems for the residents
  • Stays up on the house for many weeks or months after the holiday has ended

you may be wondering what, if anything, can be done to address this situation.

One important thing to do is to determine if your house is located within a homeowners association (HOA), community association, or condominium, or is other community or subdivision that was created with Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CCRs) recorded among the land records, to which all properties in that development are subject.  Many CCRs include provisions that address holiday lights and related displays and establish restrictions as to such matters as: (a) What time of year they may be put up (no more than 30 days before the holiday is a common time frame) and when they must be taken down (two to three weeks following the holiday is also common); (b) The scope of the display (there may be restrictions on the maximum number of feet of total lighting, such as 100 feet, or on where lights may be placed, or on the latest evening hours when lights may remain lit; there may also be restrictions on roof-anchored displays); and (c) Whether musical or other noise-producing displays are permitted, and if so, whether there are decibel and/or time of day restrictions.  If there are recorded CCRs that apply to your neighborhood, and if your neighbor’s excessive display is violating the restrictions common to all property owners, you can ask your HOA board (if there is one) to take action to address the situation.

[And if your community’s CCRs are deficient with respect to having reasonable, common-sense rules and guidelines for restricting excessive, offensive, or dangerous holiday lighting displays, it may be too late to do anything about that for this year, but you may want to consider the feasibility of working with others in the community to try to amend the CCRs to include such rules and guidelines for future holiday seasons.]

Whether there are applicable recorded CCRs or not, it is worth researching to see if your city, town, or county has any local laws and ordinances that limit excessive holiday displays, particularly in the areas of noise and light restrictions and public safety (including but not limited to fire safety and traffic safety).

Of course, one strategy not to be overlooked is civil discourse. By speaking directly but respectfully with your neighbor, you may be able to explain the problems that their over-the-top holiday lighting display has been causing for you, and perhaps a compromise can be amicably reached in which the neighbor gets to continue using their display to express their unique personality and exuberant holiday spirit, but within limits (such as agreed-upon lights-out times, or noise-muting measures) that honor and respect the rights of others.  With this approach, it may be useful to enlist the assistance of others in the neighborhood who likely have also been disturbed by the neighbor’s excessive display, and even joining with those other neighbors in circulating and signing a petition to be delivered to the offending neighbor, to help underscore the point that their over-the-top display is also bothering others, in addition to you.

If none of the above measures is proving to be effective, then another, but more extreme, measure to consider would be filing a lawsuit against the neighbor to have their holiday lighting display enjoined as a private or public nuisance.  Litigation is expensive, time-consuming, stressful, and difficult to win, and usually creates hard feelings between neighbors, so this approach is one that likely would not be advisable or practical in most instances, but it is good to remember this as an option if you feel that the harm being caused by the neighbor’s excessive holiday display is so great and so acute that litigation would be justified.

One final, and I hope helpful, thought about having a neighbor who goes way over the top with their holiday lighting display, is that the problem is (usually) temporary.  Focusing on the aspects of the holiday – whatever holiday or holidays you celebrate – that bring you the most joy, rather than dwelling on your annoyance with your crazy neighbor, may just help you make it through the next few weeks and on into the New Year with more smiles and fewer grumbles.  Season’s greetings to all, and pass the (soy for me please) eggnog!

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