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Jeremy and Kristi Morris of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho won a jury verdict for $75,000 after successfully suing their West Hayden States First Addition Homeowners Association (HOA) for waging a "War On Christmas." The couple successfully claimed that the HOA's restriction against the couple's annual front lawn five-day-long Christmas pageant extravaganza had little to do with nuisance laws, but instead was a violation of the Morris family's constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs.
The HOA Letter: Less Could Have Been So Much More
A letter from the HOA to the Morris family launched the actions which led to the lawsuit. After the Morris family announced their intent to purchase the house, but prior to moving in, the HOA sent a letter to the Morrises that told them the annual Christmas pageantry they had held at their prior home in years past would not be allowed at their new home, under HOA guidelines. To set the scene, the Christmas display at issue takes three months to set up, and includes tens of thousands of lights, a live nativity scene, and over twenty singers in the choir. For good measure, there's also a live camel named Dolly.
The HOA probably has, or should have, nuisance clauses limiting light and noise pollution and pets, which the HOA could have rested their refusal upon. But instead, in the letter, the HOA writes, "I am somewhat hesitant in bringing up the fact that some of our residents are non-Christians or of another faith and I don't even want to think of the problems that could bring up," the letter reads. Thus the War on Christmas was waged in the community.
The War on the HOA
The Morris family, now victorious, has chosen to move away from this HOA. They are looking for a place with more land to host an even larger Christmas pageant. "Our family will live wherever we want to live to spread the message of Jesus Christ and the birth of our savior," Jeremy Morris said.
If you believe your HOA rules violate your constitutional or statutory rights, contact a real estate attorney. There are very specific limitations for HOA rules, and many have been found to be too broad or over-reaching. If in doubt, contact an attorney today to discuss the facts of your particular situation, and see if you have legal rights to exercise.