Christmas is synonymous with family gatherings, business dinners, celebrations, gifts or Christmas carols. However, if there is one thing that fully represents these important dates, it is the traditional themed decoration of lights and decorations that, from mid-November to January, run through every corner of Spanish cities. Lighting in the busiest areas has become the main tourist attraction for businesses. Christmas decorations attract customers like bees to honey and that creates an incentive to use them more often. But beware of turning the streets into a Christmas fair, as it triggers some legal issues.
It is normal that at this time of year people want to decorate the streets and establishments with curtains of lights, garlands or Christmas trees. The problem comes when this decoration is placed near the communities of neighbors who live in especially touristic areas, such as the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. When Christmas lights are installed, it is usually accompanied by music, carols and the occasional themed attraction. The massive concentration of people and the noise it generates cause a lot of discomfort to the neighborhood and the residents of the area question whether there are legal measures to stop it.
This practice is, a priori, completely legal. Spanish regulations, specifically the Royal Decree on Energy Efficiency in Outdoor Lighting Installations, which came into force in 2008, specify the type of lighting to be used. However, it does not make clear the total number of lights that can be placed on public roads. In other words, it is possible for the streets to be full of light as long as they comply with the standard of installing energy-efficient and energy-efficient light bulbs. Although it is legitimate to turn the streets into a festival of lights, the truth is that there are nuances. Businesses and town halls do not have a wide sleeve to decorate at will if the well-being of the neighbors comes into play. In fact, in the middle of December, the controversy is served.
The residents of the towns of Toledo and Vigo have recently protested against the fair of lights, music and attractions in their streets in the centre. In the case of Toledo, the residents of the Plaza de Zocodover, one of the busiest areas of the town of La Mancha, expressed their discontent over a giant ball of lights with music that disturbs their tranquility: "You can't stand it" or "it's suffering" are some of the public complaints that neighbors uploaded to social networks. In Vigo, some residents complained after the Galician city council decided to erect, as it does every year, a huge Ferris wheel with lights that occupies a good part of one of its parks: "It is insufferable", "we have the right to rest", they denounced.
Complaining in court
So how can the problem be tackled? If residents find the decorations to be a nuisance to their day-to-day lives, they can take their complaints to the courts of law and prove the damage caused by the Christmas space. Ignacio de la Riva, partner at De la Riva & Pastor Abogados, explains that, if the lights disturb the neighbors adjacent to the premises, it can affect the real right of ownership. "If the effects of the lights are of such intensity that you cannot use your home to rest, it is clear that it affects the right to property and the right to the peaceful enjoyment of a home," he says.
José María Monedero, partner in the public and regulatory law area of Dikei Abogados, also believes that the neighbors can sue for these reasons, but recognizes that it is not easy to win the lawsuit: "If the lighting complies with the technical standards on the issue, it will be very complicated to force a removal of the installed lighting for a mere nuisance to the most affected neighbors."
Residents can also complain if, apart from excessive lighting, there is unbearable noise. If Christmas music sneaks into the home throughout the day and prevents you from resting, it can affect your health and violate your personal and family privacy.
Municipalities usually set a time when noise is allowed, usually from 8 a.m. to 21 p.m. or 22 p.m. However, on special dates, such as Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve, some cities, such as Seville, raise their hands until four in the morning. If the neighbor is upset, it's not enough to just complain. Those affected have a wide range of possibilities to make a claim, both through administrative and judicial channels (civil, criminal, environmental, etc.). As Antonio García, director of the Abogado del Ruido law firm, comments, "it is necessary to accredit the noise indexes and demonstrate if there is a health condition, this will allow the sound levels to be corrected with the right to be compensated for damages in each case".
To please both sides, it is best to find an intermediate solution. If lighting and noise affect daily life, it would be advisable, says Tomás Felipe de Pedraza, lawyer at Legálitas, "to ask the Administration to find solutions that reconcile the celebration of a tradition with the enjoyment of the home". A Solomonic measure, Antonio García proposes, would be to move the Christmas enclosures to a place further away from the homes located in the urban center. In this way, consumption is benefited, on the one hand, and, on the other, the right to rest is guaranteed.
Ocaña moves its celebration
The complaints of two residents of Ocaña (Toledo) about the noise of Christmas events have reached a contentious-administrative court that has recently suspended the events scheduled in the Plaza Mayor of the municipality. These included musical events, shows or the celebration of the chimes of December 31. Faced with this decision, the city council has decided to move some of the events to a space where it will not disturb the neighborhood.
The resolution of this municipal body may be a starting point for residents of other municipalities, such as Vigo or León, to demand measures such as these that guarantee the right to celebrate Christmas, and in turn, the right to rest, privacy or family conciliation.
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