Sign's message irrelevant in neighborhood dispute

December 14, 2012 

Always remember to read the fine print.

That advice would save people a whole lot of heartburn in many circumstances.

A prime example exists in Pasco, where a homeowner has violated the rules of his housing development by placing an extra large sign in his front yard.

That the sign carries a Christian-themed Christmas message is irrelevant.

The Mediterranean Villas' rules only allow for yard signs to be 2-feet by 2-feet or smaller. Tim Meeker's sign is much larger than that.

The homeowners' association sent out a two-page reminder before Thanksgiving outlining the rules for holiday decorations, including the size limitations for signs.

Homeowners' association rules have long been the subject of neighborly disputes. But they are put in place for a reason, mainly to provide standards that keep the appearance of properties neat and consistent in housing developments. It's easy to spot a neighborhood without such rules, as RVs, boats, cars, trucks and outbuildings of all manner pack some properties, and household debris piles up in yards and driveways.

But Meeker is standing his ground and making the debate about the sign's message, and other folks have jumped on that bandwagon. The sign reads: "Jesus is the reason for the season. Merry Christmas."

And while Jesus is very well the reason for the season for Christians, the content of the sign just doesn't matter in this case. It's a secular debate, not a religious one. The sign is too big and Meeker should take it down and comply with his neighborhood's covenants.

Rules are rules, and these ones protect everyone. Property owners are provided the documents when they are purchasing a home and are expected to read and abide by them.

He says his sign is a Christmas decoration and the sign rule doesn't apply in this case. If that's true, maybe he should spell the message out in lights across the side of his house instead. We're not sure that falls within the development's rules either, but it seems like a fitting compromise and would look more like a decoration than the existing placard, which at a glance could be mistaken for a campaign sign someone forgot to take down in November.

Too often, we see a backlash by property owners because they failed to read the homeowner association's rules or thought they would not be enforced. All kinds of conditions can be tucked into property transactions and having a good real estate agent and mortgage lender on your side to highlight any anomalies in the purchase agreement can help prevent these pitfalls.

Violators just don't think a rule is fair in many cases. If so, get the majority of your neighbors together and call for a rule change. Until then, all should abide by the rules they agreed to when their property was bought.

Certainly, there are sometimes silly or outdated requirements in a neighborhood's rules. But that doesn't appear to be the case here. The sign size limit seems quite reasonable.

Meeker says he's not taking the sign down. The homeowners association hasn't disclosed its action plan if Meeker doesn't comply.

It's unfortunate some will want to make this an argument about religion when it so clearly is not.

Rules are rules, and the devil is in the details, even at Christmastime.

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