International Municipal Lawyers Association - Local Government Blog

Ho, Ho, Ho…Merry Christmas? | March 31, 2009

Posted By: Dwight Merriam, Partner, Robinson & Cole, LLP

Time warp?  Has your blogster lost his last few marbles? 

Fact is, it’s the end of March and lots of folks still have their Christmas lights up.  A few years ago, I did a piece for the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law in which I mentioned people who love to festoon their abodes with electric icicles at Christmas time.  In a footnote I added:  “My family has lived in Vermont for generations, most recently in Glover, Barton and Lyndonville. I am now a ‘flatlander’ with a second home in Ludlow.  My practice takes me all across the country. I’ve been to forty-nine of the fifty states. I can tell you that there is no other state in the country where more houses remain lovingly adorned and lighted with these electrical icicles year-round. I wonder if it is because Vermonters like to be reminded of our winters or are proud of our ability to get through them.”

I never thought about people leaving up their decorations until this week, when I saw a news item about proposed regulations requiring people to remove them.  The County of San Diego will soon place a 60-day annual limit on the display of holiday lights. Click here for the news story. The new regulation can be found in the revamped lighting requirements.  Click here. The section exempts from regulation (except the electrical code) “[a] luminaire used for a holiday decoration, provided it is used for no more than 60 days in a 12 month period and is off between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and sunrise.”

First things first.  It looks like electrical decorations have to be removed under the National Electrical Code, Article 527, Section 527.3-B which provides:  “(B) 90-Day Rule. Temporary electrical installations for holiday decorative lighting and similar purposes must be removed after 90 days.” (The Code was recently ecumenically amended recently to substitute “holiday” for “Christmas.”)

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From Mike Holt Enterprises, Inc.’s website http://www.mikeholt.com

The City of Frisco, Texas, has its removal requirement right there in its zoning ordinance. Go to Section 6.08 which exempts “decorative seasonal lighting” and provides that the lights “…shall be removed within a reasonable time after any given reason [sic – presumably “season” but you could have some fun in court with the wording as it is].”

Now, what is reasonable?  In Frisco, according to the ordinance:  “The Building Official will determine what the ‘reasonable time’ should be.”  That’s bound to result in some unhappy encounters, don’t you think?

In Greenwich, Connecticut, you get to have holiday lighting for up to 40 days per year. See Sections 6-152 and 153 of the ordinance. Sun Valley, Idaho, has gone high tech and recently amended its holiday lighting requirement with this addition: “The use of LED approved holiday lighting is strongly encouraged.” Their regulations prohibit flashing holiday lights (Grinch-esque) and they have to off at 11 p.m.  Funny thing – and I’ve seen this loophole before – is that they don’t give any time before which they can be turned back on.  Don’t spread this around, but by the letter of the regulation you can turn them back on at 11:01 p.m.  Sun Valley allows the lighting from November 1 to March 15.  Not all holidays for all religious groups fall within this time period. Visakah Puja — Buddha Day or Buddha’s birthday, for example, is the major Buddhist festival of the year and it falls on the first full moon day in May this year.  Don’t put up your Visakah Puja lights in Sun Valley.

Finally, try this one for interpretation.  Chilmark, Massachusetts, a town on Martha’s Vineyard, has this regulation: “Holiday lights. Holiday lights may only be permitted to be illuminated during the traditional holiday periods.”

It’s a tough business regulating these lights.  Maybe the hands off approach in Vermont has some inherent merit.  Besides, your electrical code may be enough.


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This blog is made possible by the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA), but may include guest bloggers (who are attorneys with experience in local government matters) who might or might not work for IMLA. Their views (and those expressed on this site) do not necessarily express the views of IMLA.

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