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Bucks County Woman Fined By Homeowner’s Association For Colored Christmas Lights

By Oren Liebermann

DOYLESTOWN STATION, Pa. (CBS) — Marie Buonanno has boxes of holiday lights to decorate her house. She already has one tree up in her living room and a nativity scene. But this holiday season, she would not dare decorate outside.

“It is very disappointing that we can’t celebrate the Christmas holiday the way that we religiously choose to,” says Buonanno.

Her home only has a holiday wreath on the door, since the Doylestown Station Condominium Association told her the bylaws do not allow colored Christmas lights. Last year, she was fined $400, $10 for each day her lights were up. But she says she was the only one slapped with a fine.

“One of my neighbors that I spoke to a few days ago, who decorates with multicolored lights, says he never got a letter of warning or a fine.”

Only white, non-blinking lights are allowed outside. And you can only put up a single white, blue, or orange light in your windows. Neighbors collected 62 signatures to ask the Association board to allow colored Christmas lights. In response, the Association sent out a survey.

Out of 38 total responses, 19 voted for white lights, 14 voted for colored non-blinking lights, and 5 voted for colored blinking. The board said the vote was 19-14 against colored lights, interpreting the 5 votes as a separate category.

“As long as it’s tasteful,” says neighbor Marc Udell, “let the community do what the community is going to do.”

No one answered the door at the Association president’s house. Some neighbors say they like the look of white lights.

“Some colored lights are pretty and they have their place in neighborhoods, but you never really know how far people are going to go with them,” says Jeff Edwards.

It will be a holiday of white lights for Buonanno and her neighborhood. She says for now she will miss her colored lights and the holiday cheer they brought to her home.

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Comments

One Comment

  1. emgee says:

    What a lot of you don’t seem to understand is, this person lives in a condo HOA and with that comes rules. Save all your comments about this being America, freedom, and it’s her house. The thing is, when you live in a condo HOA, you DON’T own the outside of your house, only the inside and you CANNOT do whatever you please on the outside. HOA rules and By-Laws are generally designed to maintain property value and to keep a constant look to the entire community. That said, do I think the bylaw is unnecessarily strict? Yes, I think it is. BUT it’s a bylaw and has to be followed or you’ll get fined. That’s the deal when you CHOOSE to live in a condo HOA, like she did.

    I used to live in a condo HOA and I didn’t agree with everything in the rules and the bylaws, but you know what they are before you buy into one and MUST accept them. This isn’t about religious freedom, and it’s insulting that Bounanno is trying to turn it into that. There are places in this world that you will be jailed or executed based on your religious beliefs and to minimize such heinous acts against choice of religion by saying she can’t have colored lights is DISGUSTING!

    When I lived in my condo HOA, I was subjected to these petitions. Do you know how Bounanno got those 62 signatures? She brow-beat her neighbors. What would you do if a neighbor, especially in a townhouse community where everyone is on top of one another, came to your door and said “I think this and that, don’t YOU think the same way?” “Isn’t it horrible the way we’re being treated, don’t YOU agree with me?” What are you to do? Most sign to get the person out of their front door, the others sign because they don’t want to be seen has not agreeing with her. I mean, she KNOWS who agrees and disagrees with her!

    That said, the petition means NOTHING and neither does the Board’s survey. Here’s the deal folks, this is a By-Law of the HOA, and according to PA STATE LAW, By-Laws cannot be changed without a 66% majority vote of the entire community. The Board can’t change By-Laws on their own. It’s very apparent that the community is not on Bounanno’s side. If they were, Board’s survey would not have come back with 19 against and (for all intents and purposes) 19 for colored lights. If she really wants this changed, the proper way to do it is for the Board to put it to a vote to the community. Again, they MUST a receive 66% vote in favor of the change in order to change the By-Law.

    1. pennstater says:

      After looking at the comments maybe you are right it sounded harsh, the only point I’m trying to make is its christmas time. Let the woman put up her lights even if its just for a week or just on christmas eve and day, @Emgee, @Fedupwithphilly, we might not see eye to eye but have a Merry Christmas, I’m done arguing about this stuff. You both make some really good points.

  2. eileen says:

    The lights are of color.and this is America and we have the freedom to do what we want.appeal and enjoy the holiday It is about a baby coming into the world.Move on and enjoy the season.waste of energy.

    1. Go Griswold! says:

      One by one the homeowners in this neighborhood are starting to put colored lights. One woman who has for years displayed a white-light reindeer got a letter and a fine TODAY! This Homeowner’s Association is beyond crazy. :Let people have their colored lights. What’s the harm?

  3. Color blind says:

    They need to do a story on who’s stupid idea was it ,to only have white lights in the first place. this is america right! Where are the christmas haters hiding?
    what if people don’t like white ? red and green remember,

  4. RF Burns says:

    HOAs = Nazis

    1. max20 says:

      Let the people do whatever they want with their lights. Remember although they live in a HOA, the HOA resides in THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Last time I checked we live in a free country. Next thing their going to say you can’t hang an american or USMC flag outside! Is this still the country I’m fighting for? It’s CHRISTmas time show a little holiday spirit. For the people who are whining about how they only want white lights, as a Marine whose served over seas you are the very people that I often think to myself “am I really risking my life for these ***holes?” We fight for freedom, just remember when you come home at night from a “stressful” job and sit down at night in you perfectly knitted VNECK sweater and sip that pinot noir and admire all the white lights across the street, that the only reason you have that luxury is because of the people who fight for the freedom that you are slowly bit by bit taking away. Greedy and Selfish.

      1. willie says:

        Rules are rules & even though they may sound dumb, the majority has to rule. Don’t like it, move or better yet check before you move in.

      2. emgee says:

        Let me fill you in, Max20. This is the USA, but THERE ARE STILL RULES! Yes, they can tell you you can’t hang a USMC flag, so don’t ever move into a condo HOA. Not the American flag though, that is protected.

  5. Luke says:

    Don’t people read all these dumb rules, before they buy or move in ? If they’e all just too nutz (the rules) go elsewhere.

    1. Cindy Lou Who says:

      When HOA Board members try to legislate matters of “taste or subjective preference” it usually results in silly rules that are impractical or difficulat to enforce consistently and fairly. It’s one thing to regulate a size or type of fence or safety issues, but Christmas lights? Please this HOA is clueless and set themselves up for these problems by instituting this stupoid rule and worse, by subjectively and aribitrarily enforcing it over the years.

      1. emgee says:

        Cindy, those bylaws were probably put in place LONG before this Board was in office. The developer could have put them in place. The Board can’t change bylaws, it’s PA State Law. The community has to vote on it and there must be a 66% majority in favor of the change.

  6. George says:

    This is why I don’t buy into condos or housing developments. What part of “THIS IS MY HOUSE” don’t these people understand.

    1. willie says:

      Left unchecked, people would have purple & red doors, blue & yellow windoes with r Tigers & lions running the yards azzholes.

      1. amber says:

        why do you care about the color of other people’s doors?? maybe you should worry about YOUR house being how YOU like it and i’ll worry about MY house looking how I like it…

      2. comacrawl says:

        @Amber, the reason one cares about the appearance of their neighbors’ homes is that it has a direct effect upon the property values of one’s own home. It’s quite simple.

      3. emgee says:

        amber, unfortunately, when you live in a condo HOA, it’s not YOUR house. You own the inside, not the outside. Condo HOAs must have uniformity. If they don’t, they turn into dumps and everyone’s property values sink.

      4. amber says:

        it is very unfair to say “they turn into dumps…” however, no one can obviously make you guys(the ones who keep batting for the HOA) see that you are all just selfish and live very very sad and boring lives. I’m not going to even try and show you guys how wrong your way of thinking really honestly is. it’s a lost cause. I feel bad for anyone who “has” to deal with the HOA but my only advice is to not live in an HOA community. that seems to be the only way out of this situation. Everyone who agrees with it are stubborn and refuse to see reality.

  7. Mike Trotter says:

    I think they stopped counting at 19 because they would have had tp get naked to count past twenty.

    and who would want to see that???

  8. Soicanleavecomments OnBlogs says:

    Follow the rules. Get 10 million white lights and light up the yard and house and roof and all!!!

    1. mb says:

      Excellent ideat!!!!

  9. ab says:

    The vote tabulation was rigged – there was no option for whilte, blinking lights pkus the issue was all-white versus white plus other colors.

    The blinking and non-blinking colored votes should be combined – but that would mean allowing other colors, so no surprise this was not done.

    1. Jared says:

      Thank you, the survey was biased, and therefore the wrong conclusion was drawn. I would appeal the decision based on the injustice in the vote tabulation.

    2. emgee says:

      You’re both wrong. They weren’t votes, it was an informal survey, they can’t change the bylaw based on that survey. It was essentially 50/50 and you’d need 66% of the community to be in favor of the change in an OFFICIAL vote, not a survey. They could still take his to a resolution to the community.

  10. MandoZink says:

    I am an atheist who doesn’t even care much for these holidays. I do know that it gives many people feelings of warmth and more. I cannot imagine how such petty regulations could have been put into place. Why would anyone care? Let it be colorful if it makes someone happy. I bet rainbows must really annoy their HOA.

    1. Praying4U says:

      It takes a lot of FAITH to be an ahteist.

      1. Prayforyourself says:

        Doesn’t take any faith at all to be an atheist.

      2. amber says:

        this story is about christmas lights, not trying to pray for people or “save” them…

  11. Jon Anthony says:

    ummm…should we even be calling them “colored” lights? That’s grounds for some kind of racial bias lawsuit no?

  12. rs says:

    All white lights are boring!

  13. smartmusican says:

    Unfortunately,this is as ridiculous as it sounds and should be no brainer.But ,when you live somewhere that you give some homeowners assn. power over you and what you can do with your own house,this is what happens.You end up with a board of power hungry idiots that like to come up with arbitrary rules just to show that they are in charge.Thank you for another story about how people are going out of their way to ruin christmas.

  14. Livilla Praetoria says:

    Christmas as brought to you by a passel of jagoffs. Hope Santa gives them all coal—and not the kind you buy at Tiffanys. Bet they’re all Thugs, too.

    1. smartmusican says:

      I did not know that Tiffanys sold coal…BUT I AGREE WITH YOU.

  15. for red white and blue lights says:

    Hey…in the spirit of OWL (occupy wall street) perform your own occupy. That movement should empower us all that we have the freedom of speech, expression and religion and not allow those rights to be taken away by anyone…put up the blinkin colored lights and sue anyone who says you cannot. Yu cannot give up your constitutional rights and others cannot take them away.

  16. John Barnard says:

    H.O.A-Hostile Obsessive Anal

  17. jim says:

    hoa’s need to be outlawed!

  18. Brenda Coale says:

    What happened to the country I grew upin where people were interested in things with a purpose?????? This issue is rediculous! A place is worried about the color of lights???? What next? An order of what kind of flowers to plant? And Albro take a chill pill. There is therapy for anger like yours honey!

    1. eva68 says:

      HOAs determine all of that stuff (flowers, paint etc). My mother-in-law lives in a town like that..YUCK!

  19. Katie says:

    Who on earth would buy a place where a committee can decide what your house looks like down to the color of light bulbs you can use. Is this not still America? You’d have to be nuts to go along with this mind set.

    (Living in the country and free to express myself whatever way I see fit!)

    1. emgee says:

      Why? Well, I can’t answer that, but they DID! Why do people choose to get driver’s licenses when they will knowingly be subjected to the traffic laws in the state they drive in?

      1. amber says:

        please do not relate traffic SAFETY laws to the bylaws of the HOA… they are very much unrelated. the HOA has no “real” reason why they feel the way they do about colored lights… you can’t hit a family in your car and speed off trying to pretend it never happened for a reason. see my point??

  20. Jim says:

    You think that is bad, there are some deeded/gated communities where you can’t even display a flag or any decorations at all. I agree, get involved.in the HOA or whatever you have. Or make yourself aware before buyingi. Take a good look around the developement. See if you can deal with a sterile ticky tacky all in a row environment. Some like it, some don’t. Personally, I prefer variety, espaecially during holidays. Again, outlandish displays or poorly maintained homes would need some kind of standards.

  21. Jeff says:

    Lets take some more of CHRISTMAS away from America. We are talking about Christmas lights not siding or trash in the yard, etc.
    What is wrong with america? Part of it is stupid a– Associations.

  22. Jared says:

    I would appeal the decision since the board does not know how to conduct statistical analysis of survey results correctly. First of all, they split the colored vote by separating them into two categories, blinking and non-blinking. Why did they not separate the white light vote into blinking and non-blinking? For the colored lights 14+5 = 19. So the vote is 19 to 19 for white and colored lights showing an indifference between the two colors since there is no statistically significant difference between the two which can be shown by conducting a t-test. Therefore, both white and colored lights should be allowed EQUALLY. SMDH learn statistics!!!!!

    1. emgee says:

      It has nothing to do with that, Jared. It was a survey and the bylaws can’t be changed based on the survey. The Board would have to put it to a vote to the community and they would need 66% in favor of the change to change the bylaw.

  23. sherry says:

    unfortunately its not always disclosed to the buyer that the home they are purchasing is in a neighborhood with a HOA.

    1. Teri says:

      It is where I live. You are required to sign off on a copy of the bylaws at closing. And, in most cases, HOA fees are escrowed like taxes/insurance.

    2. Red Buttons says:

      Yes it is. You buy a condo and you are NOT buying anything outside, you are buying the inside space. The condo rules are available to anyone buying there, of course. You choose not to read them it is your own fault. You want a yard and space around your home to do what you want with, buy a house, not a condo.

    3. emgee says:

      It’s PA State Law that you get a copy BEFORE you close, sherry. Sorry to burst your bubble.

  24. Albro says:

    Baloney! this lady tries to make this a religious issue: I’m pretty sure that the bible never mentions strings of colored light bulbs! YOU signed the agreement with the HOA, so stand up like an adult and abide by your agreement.

    1. amber says:

      you wouldn’t abide by the same agreement if they told you that YOU couldn’t have a certain thing on or in YOUR house when YOU paid or are paying for it. the fact that the HOA is even a real thing is absolutely ridiculous… just shows that when the PTA’s kids get too old for the parents to still be a part of the PTA, they are still trying to control something. absolutely RIDICULOUS! makes me honestly ashamed to say those people are americans. if i was that lady i’d take the fine over them telling me what to do any day..

    2. The Grinch lives here says:

      The HOA needs to abide by their by-laws as well. They can’t selectively and arbitrarily enforce their own rules. The HOA didn’t play by their own rules here…they wouldn’t allow the homeowners who followed the proscribed process to obtain the correct number of signatures in order to allow them to begin the process of repealing this silly rule. The HOA Board is hypocritical and mean-spirited on this issue.

    3. emgee says:

      Amen, Albro!

      Grinch, you have no idea what you’re talking about. That is NOT the prescribed process to change a bylaw in the state of PA. The Board must put it to a vote to the community, which in turn must have 66% in favor of the change to change the bylaw. A resident running house-to-house brow-beating her neighbors into signing a petition doesn’t hold any water at all. It’s meaningless.

      Amber – Yeah, ya would abide by the bylaw because you’ll get fined if you DON’T. Just like they are. They agree to all the rules and bylaws when they bought in there. TOUGH COOKIES!

      1. amber says:

        you made some comments about people needing to re-read something…. well emgee, you need to take your own advice, I never said that i would abide by the bylaw, nor did i say i wouldn’t get fined. I simply stated that out of principal, i would take the fine over abiding by their lame excuse to tell people what they can and can’t do. i understand that the only way around it is to go to the meetings and say your peace, or simply don’t live there. if i felt i absolutely had to live there, then i would gladly take the fine over abiding any day :) so you can take you tough cookies back and crawl back under the rock you came from.

  25. Jeanne Smith says:

    Whites only? Sounds like racism to me. :-p

  26. Peter says:

    What happened to the freedom of expression? Who’s rights are being violated here.

  27. Dave says:

    What a bunch of snooty people… Home associations are ridiculous in the first place… I will never move to an area that has a home association…. Next they’ll be complain how big her flag pole is or is she even allowed one. This whole thing is RIDICULOUS… Merry Christmas…. What Holiday Cheer in that neighborhood…

    1. retphxfire says:

      I bet it’s too late… most HOA’s already don’t allow flag poles. I lived in an HOA community for years. For the most part they were fair, with a few questionable actions. By fair, I mean they were equal in their ‘policing’. However, anyone with a swingset in the back yard that could be viewed, in any way, from the street was cited,.just an example of how people need to actually READ the by-laws before buying.

      1. Lokari says:

        More to the point, an example of how people need to get involved in their HOA. Just as with government, it exists to serve the members, all of whom have the right to suggest and vote on changes to the covenants. Anyone who doesn’t show up for HOA meetings and participate has no right to complain when they don’t like the rules.

    2. Albro says:

      You wont move to a home with an HOA? She had the same right, but chose to sign the contract!

  28. Phil says:

    If 62 people are for it, perhaps the community should have 2 distinct areas, one for White only, and one for Colored only.

    1. Richard Mallett says:

      LMAO

    2. Teri says:

      Love it!

  29. M. says:

    The laws are for some and NOT for all!
    If you think it’s bad here, you don’t want to move into Delaware!
    “The Good Old Boys State”!!

  30. Alice says:

    The association is an _ss! Leave the poor woman alone. She should do whatever she wants. It’s her home!

    1. jim says:

      100% right!

    2. emgee says:

      No it’s not, Alice! She owns the inside, NOT the outside. Welcome to condo HOA living!

  31. Suburbia says:

    Move if you don’t like it! You’re the one who bought the house and signed the contract with the association. These stories always come up but there really isn’t a story here. Just like in the housing crisis, you should have known what you were getting into!

    1. Melody O says:

      I agree. This is precisely why I avoided those neighborhoods like the plague when house shopping. I will decide what I want my house to look like, and it doesn’t cost me a zillion dollars a year to do it.

      1. Lokari says:

        My HOA fees in a community of 300 homes is about $120 a year. It pays for maintenance of the common areas (which look quite nice), and has very reasonable rules. Can my neighbor change his siding to blue and yellow stripes? No, thank goodness. But he can change it to just about anything a reasonable person would consider ‘tasteful’. And we’re all middle-class folks, with a pretty even mix of blue- and white-collar workers.

      2. amber says:

        @LOKARI..why do you people get to decide what’s “tasteful”? i’m pretty sure your idea of tasteful is not the same as mine. i might find your idea of it as horribly boring and you might find my idea of it as terribly white-trash… see what i mean?? who made you guys god of the neighborhood??

      3. Lokari says:

        @Amber, I am not on the HOA board, so I am not deciding for anyone what is tasteful. Our rules were initially set in place by the builder (who had a vested interest in making sure all the properties were sold), and afterwards have been loosened in several cases by community vote.

        That last bit – community vote – is important. Anyone living in an HOA has a vote, and has the right to suggest changes to their rules, which the whole community can then vote on. It’s a microcosm of the democratic system.

        The criteria for ‘tasteful’ generally comes down to “Will this hurt my neighbors’ property values?” I see the comments about “This is America, I should be able to do what I want”, and that’s true – to a point. You can do what you want, right up to the point where it starts to impact someone else. If my neighbor paints his house in stripes, or parks junk vehicles on his lawn, he is having a direct, negative impact on the value of my home, both in the enjoyment I derive from living there, and in the actual cash value I might get should I try to sell.

        So, you tell me why your rights trump mine?

      4. Jared says:

        @Lokari
        Yes community vote is important, however in this case the community vote means nothing when the HOA show a bias by skewing the results of the vote and performing an improper analysis, therefore drawing the wrong conclusion.
        The vote tally was incorrect, and they should correct the fact that the white to color vote was a tie; 19-19, therefore of the 38 individuals surveyed, the results indicate indifference. So both white and colored lights should be equally allowed.
        By splitting the vote and treating a portion of the colored light votes as a separate group, they introduced a bias into the survey results. Maybe it should be a requirement that the HOA board take a statistics class, especially pertaining to administering surveys.

      5. amber says:

        @Jared- very very good point. i think a statistics class would do them more than some good.

    2. emgee says:

      Ugh, Jared, if you knew what you were talking about at all, you might have a point, but you don’t. The Board survey WASN’T A VOTE! It was a survey! The Board can’t change bylaws based on a survey.

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