Does your neighbor's holiday display make you feel like a Grinch? While a lot of people love the bright lights and decorations that go along with the holiday season, a little can go a long way. People also have different ideas of what's fun and festive -- one man's holiday display could easily be another's nightmare. The question, for many, is can you do anything about it if your neighbor's holiday display is just too much? The answer depends on the circumstances.
Is It A Nuisance?
While you're generally free to do as you like on your property, your freedom ends where it starts to conflict with the ability of other people to enjoy their property. A nuisance is broadly defined as anything that interferes with the ability of other people to enjoy their own property, is a safety threat, or is just plain offensive.
For example, if you move into a neighborhood where the houses are fairly far apart and you've got plenty of space, you might be able to keep a few chickens and a pig in the backyard without disturbing anyone. However, if you live in a place where there's barely a foot or two between buildings, all that clucking and the smell of the pig might be considered a nuisance that's interfering with your neighbor's rights. The totality of the circumstances is always important when it comes to a nuisance.
Holiday displays have been causing disputes between neighbors for decades now. In 1996, one lawsuit went all the way to the Supreme Court of Arkansas, after a some 3 million twinkling lights and other holiday decor put up by one homeowner drove several others to distraction.
How Bad Is It?
When deciding whether or not somebody's holiday display is a nuisance, the court will consider several factors.
First, what is it about the display that is a nuisance? Keep in mind that you can't object to a display just because you think it is ugly or sacrilegious. Limit your complaint to things like the brightness of the lights and the never-ending sound of caroling being played over speakers every night.
Next, would the display disturb a reasonable person? The imaginary "reasonable person" is a legal fiction used to create an objective standard that the courts can use to judge something against. It represents anybody of average intelligence and reason with ordinary sensibilities. In other words, if you happen to be unusually sensitive to noise, or troubled with insomnia that's worsened by the bright lights on your neighbor's house, your particular opinion about your neighbor's holiday ornamentation might not be relevant.
Finally, is there any public benefit to the display that would outweigh your inconvenience or is there any public detriment caused by the display? For example, if your neighbor's excessive display is limited to only a short time and serves as a fundraiser for charity, the public benefit might outweigh the temporary nuisance. However, if the streets are getting clogged by cars that are slowing down to look and accidents are happening, there might be a significant public interest in shutting the display down.
If you are successful with your lawsuit, the courts may either limit the display to certain operating hours, order it reduced to a reasonable size that won't cause others distress, or have it taken down. This is known as injunctive relief.
Regardless of the reason or the season, if your neighbor's activities are causing you distress, consider talking to an attorney about the problem if talking to your neighbor doesn't help. You may be able to get the courts to help.Share
11 December 2015
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