WHAT TO MY WONDERING EYES SHOULD APPEAR…

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… but a massive, enormous, extravagant Christmas lights display on what used to be a quiet residential corner.

In an era when enterprising people organize paying “tours of homes” driving past greatly decorated houses in town, is that appearance awesome?

Or should sleigh riders beware of scowling homeowners lurking behind windows, shotgun in hand, cursing the disruption to their neighborhood?

People have filed complaints claiming, and courts have found, that excessive displays can attract so much attention that they become a nuisance which must be abated.  In other words, those displays had to be toned down. A couple of appellate decisions in Louisiana and Arkansas lead the way. But a case barely settled here in Florida over a mammoth display. The plaintiff had described it as involving “200,000 lights, dozens of light-up figures, an enormous inflatable Santa Claus, a 20-foot Ferris wheel, a 30-foot ‘Mega Christmas’ tree […] dressed with 12,700 lights, music, live entertainment” and more.

There are three legal issues driving those disputes. The first is whether a display that big, attracting thousands of visitors, is really commercial in nature.  This would violate zoning rules in a residential neighborhood.

The second is whether the light, noise, and traffic amount to a nuisance — broadly speaking, a use of property that infringes on another’s property rights. The difficulty in trying such a case, to paraphrase a 1972 Florida Supreme Court case, is that there are as many claims to a nuisance as the infinite variety of ways in which one person may be annoyed by another.

The third is that the display may violate restrictions in HOA documents for the Association of which the property is part. One who purchases a home in an HOA-governed neighborhood is deemed to have contractually agreed to abide by all covenants and restrictions. No matter how obnoxious limitations on Holiday Cheer may be to some, if the HOA limits it, the homeowner is bound by that.

Display of religious symbols on HOA-governed properties and condos is another source of legal chin-rubbing. Many COAs and HOAs prohibit them, seeking to avoid confrontations in diverse communities. But federal law prevents religious discrimination in housing. Does that affect HOA rules? It is an open question.

So what is one to do? Perhaps a dose of common courtesy can help. Perhaps reason may prevail. Else the courts will be called to be the ones deciding how many light bulbs hang from trees and rooflines.

As we now close this blog for the year on a glittering note, we hope to see you in 2018, and wish you Happy Holidays and an extravagantly prosperous New Year.

And to all a good night.

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