The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A family put up their Christmas lights in early November. They now face fines from ‘Grinch’ HOA.

The outside of the Moffa residence in Tampa. The family is facing fines for putting their Christmas lights up too early and violating their HOA agreement. (YouTube/WFLA)
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In an effort to make this holiday season the best one yet for his family of five, Michael Moffa vowed to have their Christmas lights professionally installed and not miss out like they had the past two years.

To do so, Moffa agreed for a Tampa company to put up their lights earlier than usual on Nov. 6, nearly three weeks before Thanksgiving, as it was the only time the business had availability. The early holiday spirit had brought joy to the family this month — until they got a letter from their homeowners association threatening them with up to $1,000 in fines for putting up their lights too early and violating their HOA agreement.

“I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It’s Christmas lights,” Moffa, 40, told The Washington Post. “I’m not taking them down, even if the guidelines said I put them up too early. Everything looks so nice and for them to be a Grinch like this, it’s just unheard of.”

Jonathan Ellis, an attorney representing the Westchase Community Association, told WFLA, the first to report the story, that a neighbor complained about the lights at the Moffa residence, “which led to community manager to investigate it.” In a statement to The Post, Ellis said that the HOA had yet to decide whether to fine Moffa.

“The Association has not levied a fine and there has been no decision on whether a fine will be levied regarding the failure of Mr. Moffa to comply with the Association’s rule regarding holiday decorations,” he said.

The back-and-forth over the early holiday display in Tampa has received local and national attention in recent days, and rekindled a long-standing question: How early is too early to put up your Christmas lights?

It’s dark outside. Families are putting up Christmas lights early to offset the gloom.

Perhaps the most notable person to offer their support to Moffa was singer Mariah Carey, whose holiday classic, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” has made the pop star an unofficial Christmas queen.

“My personal preference is to wait until after Thanksgiving but there’s no regulating festiveness!!!” Carey tweeted.

Moffa said he started thinking about when to put up their Christmas decorations last month. Between his family and career as owner of a wealth management company, he knew it would be tough for him to put up lights on his own time.

“With the pandemic and the kids going through a different year at school, Christmas is something we’re really looking forward to celebrating this year,” he said. “Because of the long hours I work, we got the lights professionally done.”

He didn’t think twice about booking the company to install the lights less than a week after Halloween. When the job was complete, the roof, bushes and palm trees were lined in lights — a sign that Christmas had come early.

“It put a big smile on our kids’ faces,” he said. “We go out every night and look at the lights and feel good.”

Then, about two days later, Moffa said he received a letter from the Westchase Community Association. The homeowners association for the Tampa-area community wrote that its policy allows seasonal decorative lights to be displayed between Oct. 15 and Nov. 7 and between Thanksgiving and Jan. 15 of each calendar year.

Since Moffa had his lights up on Nov. 8, he was in violation of the HOA agreement, according to the letter. If he does not remove the lights, the family could face fines of $100 a day and a maximum of $1,000 total.

He told The Post that he requested to not turn on the lights but keep the display up until they’re allowed back on at Thanksgiving — which was also denied.

“One of the things they’re preventing is from the person that has the holiday lights up all year-round or things along those lines,” Ellis said to WFLA.

Moffa, who said this isn’t the first time he’s been in conflict with the HOA, questioned Westchase’s arbitrary guidelines in which there is a 17-day gap prohibiting decorative lights.

“Did they forget how to count the days in November?” he asked, sarcastically. “It’s not like I put up the lights in April or June. I put it up a few days early.”

If there’s enough support from the rest of the community to change the rules surrounding when lights can go up, then the homeowners association would look into altering the decorations policy, Ellis told WFLA.

“I believe generally the Community Association of Westchase will listen to the residents and will make changes,” Ellis said.

While it’s unclear whether he will face a fine, Moffa said it would cost just as much, and maybe more, for the installation company to take down the lights and put them back up a few days later. He’s surprised by the reaction the dispute over his Christmas lights have gotten, saying he’s “still waiting on [Gov. Ron] DeSantis to chime in.”

“The smiles on my kids’ faces are more important than the fines,” he told The Post. “We’re going to make Christmas the best we can for them.”

And he already has another idea for how to add to the early holiday cheer.

“If any decorations stores want to contribute more lights, by all means, I’ll give them my address,” he said. “Send more decorations, please.”

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