Bah Humbug! How to Avoid Legal Issues During the Holidays

Neighbor & Nuisance Disputes by Simon Offord, Esq.

Winter is the time for festive celebrations, family, friends and giving.  However, we all know there are some Scrooges out there who do not share the joyful spirit.

In this blog, we look at some of the real estate related legal issues that can arise during the holiday season:

1. Nuisances Created by Holiday Lights

Many families relish driving around neighborhoods and looking at holiday light displays.  For instance, Fulton Street in Palo Alto has quite an impressive “Christmas Tree Lane.”  However, what happens when your display upsets the neighbor?

It is not too far-fetched to imagine over-the-top holiday decorations upsetting the neighbors.  Anyone who has seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation knows what the neighbors thought of the Griswold family Christmas display.

Holiday decorations can create additional traffic and noise from on-lookers (or noise from the displays themselves).  They can also result in parking issues, blocking driveways, and late-night revelers.  The display itself can also be a nuisance to a close-by neighbor, who suddenly has lights flashing in the bedroom or the like.  It could even potentially cause power outages (right Clark?).

There was even the recent newsworthy story where a Town fined a homeowner for their “Zombie Nativity Scene,” claiming the display did not comply with zoning regulations and was too large.

Whether a neighbor has ever sued and demanded a restraining order for a particularly gaudy holiday display is unknown to us.  However, we would hope that before someone would resort to a lawsuit, the neighbors simply discussed the issue and worked out a reasonable accommodation.  It is the holidays after all!  That said, if the display is truly over the top, one could seek a restraining order to curtail the display.

2. Potential Issues with the new “Laser” Christmas Lights

This holiday season has seen an increase in “laser” holiday lights, which project lights onto one’s home or large trees.  These displays certainly are less work and less dangerous than hanging lights yourself, and actually are visually appealing.  However, there may be some potential issues.

Recent news articles have highlighted concerns with these laser lights, claiming that the lights can cause issues for pilots.  There have even been reported arrests for people who have “intentionally” pointed the lights at aircraft.

This is certainly a developing issue, as these lights are a new phenomenon.  I would not be surprised to see some regulations of these lights, including not allowing them within certain distances to airports.

These lights have also been newsworthy as they are apparently being stolen with some frequency.  As the lights are typically place on the front yard to illuminate the house, there are some Grinches stealing the easy to install displays (which also happen to be very easy to uninstall).

3. Contractors Installing Lights

Don’t want to go through the hassle and risk of installing lights yourself?  Hire someone else to do it and there is no risk, right?  Wrong, especially if the contractors are unlicensed.

As with any other situation whereby contractors are hired, the homeowner runs a risk in using unlicensed contractors.  The biggest risk generally is what happens if one of the workers is injured.  Licensed contractors are required to have worker’s compensation insurance.  Unlicensed contractors typically do not have insurance, so if one of the employees slips and falls off the roof, you may be getting a present you do not want: a lawsuit from the employee.


We certainly hope none of these issues arise for you, as the holidays are a time to get together with your friends, family and neighbors.  If the neighbor’s lights are problematic, go over to them and discuss it over some egg nog.  “Problems” like these should not end in lawsuits, and can oftentimes be resolved on their own.

Now, go out and enjoy the holidays!

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