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Legal for an HOA to Restrict Holiday Decorations?

Europe. Ukraine. Christmass decoraton. Winter 2007
By Andrew Leonatti | Last updated on

For many homeowners, November is the time to start putting up Christmas lights both inside and outside their homes.

This is also the time where some in the media like to complain about too much "happy holidays" and not enough "merry Christmas." But they miss the biggest perpetrators in the War on Christmas©: homeowners' associations.

If you belong to a homeowners' association or a condo board, you might want to think twice before decking the outside of your hall with boughs of holly. That's because HOA rules may limit, or even prohibit, certain kinds of holiday decorations.

Is it legal for an HOA to limit their members' ability to decorate their home for the holidays?

It's Not Even Thanksgiving Yet! Humbug!

In the case of a Westchase, Florida, homeowner, it wasn't just what they were putting up, but when.

After having a company put up Christmas lights on November 6, the Moffa family received a letter from their HOA informing them that decorations cannot go up until Thanksgiving. The letter threatened up to $1,000 in fines.

Michael Moffa said it was the only day he could find a service to put up the lights for him. The HOA has not responded to an offer to leave the lights off until after Thanksgiving, he said.

Read Your Homeowners' Association's Rules

The goal of homeowners association rules is to regulate activities that may affect the neighborhood. You can typically find your HOA's rules in a document known as the covenants, codes, and restrictions (CC&R). These rules may include regulations controlling:

  • Number of pets allowed
  • Exterior paint colors
  • Landscaping
  • Mailboxes
  • Sheds and other outbuildings
  • Swing sets, basketball hoops, and children's play structures

Along these same lines, CC&Rs may also limit your choices for holiday decorations and when you can put them up. And despite what the Queen of Christmas thinks, when buying a home in an association, you agree to abide by the CC&Rs.

What Can You Do?

If your HOA rules limit holiday decorations, there are a few things you could do. First, consider offering your neighbors some figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer (otherwise known as "talking civilly"). It's possible that association rules may not be strictly enforced during the holidays. (Although in this case, one of the Moffa's neighbors appeared to be the Scrooge.)

You should also consider taking your case in front of the homeowners' association board, asking for an amendment to the rules. The lawyer for the Moffa's HOA noted that rules — yes, even these — are in place for a reason and that there is a process for changing them.

"If there's enough of the community that wants to change, I believe generally the Community Association of Westchase will listen to the residents and will make changes," attorney Jonathan Ellis said.

If you decide to join the frontlines in fighting the War on Christmas© and violate the rules in your CC&Rs by decorating your house, though, be prepared. Nothing may actually happen, as enforcement of HOA rules varies widely from neighborhood to neighborhood. You may receive a sternly written letter or be issued a fine by your HOA.

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