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Couple wins lawsuit over holiday lights display

Some homeowners in California really get into the spirit when decking their halls, sometimes to the point where light displays are fairly elaborate and creative. In some instances, not all neighbors in the area are pleased with the attention that such displays get, especially if a normally quiet neighborhood becomes inundated with pedestrian and vehicle traffic. However, there is something to be said for the rights of homeowners to responsibly express their seasonal enthusiasm.

This is essentially what was at the heart of a neighbor dispute involving an Idaho couple. They annually drape their home with more than 200,000 lights, invite carolers to perform and set up a live nativity complete with a real camel. It's a spectacle that brings in busloads of visitors. While the couple does not charge a fee, they do accept donations, which they give to local charities. They ran into trouble when they moved to a new home and encountered difficulties with their local homeowners' association.

The HOA alleged that the couple was violating rules by increasing neighborhood traffic and having an excessively bright display. They countered by stating that the complaint was a bias against their religion. As part of the lawsuit, the couple asked to be de-annexed from the HOA and sought punitive damages. The jury sided with the couple, agreeing that the HOA violated the federal Fair Housing Act. They plan to use the $75,000 in punitive damages they received to move to a more hospitable neighborhood.

When a residential property dispute occurs, it's generally advised that homeowners make an attempt to resolve the issue with their HOA or the neighbor specifically making a complaint. Should this prove to be more difficult than anticipated, a lawyer may be able to make a formal attempt to resolve the issue amicably. In the event that this isn't possible either, an attorney may determine if certain rights are being violated and recommend appropriate legal action if there is a valid case.

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