QUESTION: I just received a fine from our homeowner’s association because I decorated my house for the holidays the week before Thanksgiving, which apparently is too early. Do I need to pay this?
Q: Code enforcement stopped by our home yesterday saying that our Christmas decorations are excessive and we’re using unsafe wiring. They’re telling me that we have to take down some decorations or face fines. Is this for real?
ANSWER: Yes and yes. In buying a home in a community association, you agree to follow your community’s rules. Restrictions placed on decorating your home for the holidays are no different than the rules that may be in place regarding the paint colors you can use for the outside of the home.
You and your neighbors have agreed to certain standards for the common enjoyment of the neighborhood. When purchasing a home in a planned community, make sure that you can live with the restrictions. If you want to change the holiday decoration rules, for instance, get together with a group of your like-minded neighbors and attend an association meeting well in advance of the holidays.
Speak to your leadership about the restrictions and the possibility of amending the rules to allow you to put up decorations closer to Thanksgiving Day. If the rules in your community have restrictions that you have violated, you will have to pay the fine.
As for the code enforcement question, religious holiday decorations are a form of protected speech. But the government may place restrictions on those decorations to comply with health and safety standards. So while your city can stop you from overloading your electrical system, or using unsafe decorations, it can’t stop you from safely celebrating the holidays.
Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He is the chairperson of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is an adjunct professor for the Nova Southeastern University Paralegal Studies program. Send him questions online at http://sunsent.nl/mR20t7 or follow him on Twitter GarySingerLaw.
The information and materials in this column are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is formed. Nothing in this column is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney, especially an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.