Virginia Supreme Court Ruling: Can Your Association Regulate Holiday Lighting?
In late August 2019, the Virginia Supreme Court issued a ruling that overturned a homeowners’ association’s guidelines regarding holiday decorations. In Sainani v. Belmont Glen Homeowners Association, Inc., the Court ruled that Belmont Glen did not have the requisite authority in its recorded declaration to regulate seasonal or holiday lighting, continuing a trend whereby the Virginia Supreme Court has narrowly construed regulatory authority for homeowners’ associations.
Belmont Glen had adopted regulatory guidelines that limited the time periods that lot owners could display holiday and seasonal lighting on lots in the community. Despite these guidelines, a homeowner decorated their home with holiday lighting that was active for 300 days a year, causing Belmont Glen to issue rules violation notices against the home. After holding hearings (that the homeowner failed to attend), Belmont Glen levied fines against the lot and ultimately filed a lawsuit to collect the fees. Although Belmont Glen was awarded judgment in Loudoun Circuit Court, the owner appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court and won their case.
In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court determined that Belmont Glen did not have the power to regulate seasonal lighting because the Belmont Glen declaration did not contain requisite provisions allowing the Association to regulate seasonal lighting and because the declaration already had a covenant regarding lighting. This ruling is consistent with the Virginia Supreme Court’s decisions in recent years, in which the provisions of community association documents have been narrowly construed. As the holidays approach, if you have questions concerning your association’s authority to regulate holiday lighting, you may wish to have counsel review your documents in light of this recent important decision.