Ask Amy: Advice for the Real World

Dear Amy: My husband and I live in a medium-sized townhome community in a large city. We have a homeowner’s association (HOA). We’ve had no issues with the HOA, up until now.

The president of the HOA recently sent an email to all owners, saying that any Halloween decorations that included “representations of the occult or supernatural” (skeletons, witches, vampires, monsters, and even jack-o-lanterns), were unacceptable and would result in a fine. The only decorations permitted would be of a “general fall theme,” and not Halloween-related.

My husband, as a lifelong fan of Halloween, absolutely flipped out. He replied to the email, told them they were overreaching, and that their religious preferences are not our problem. They responded that he will be fined if he breaks the rule, and that the rule is meant to preserve the aesthetic of the exterior of our homes, and doesn’t have to do with religion.

Over the last week, he purchased every tacky Halloween decoration he could find.

He is intent on making a point, and the potential of a fight with the HOA is stressing me out. I agree that this is an overreach on the HOA’s part, but I don’t think it’s worth fighting over.

Do I continue to allow his protest, or do I push back?

— Unsure

Dear Unsure: Do you have the power over your spouse to allow (or deter) a protest? If you possess this influence, please bottle it and send me a dose.

Many HOAs can control the color of your house, what plantings or fencing you are permitted to use, and many (seemingly trivial) aspects of the outside look of your home that seem (to me) like a basic trampling of a person’s freedom to exercise their own bad taste at their own home.

However, this is the life you two signed up for.

I happen to agree with your husband. If he asked me how to launch this protest, I would advise him to dive into any holes created by vague directives. So unless the HOA specifically disallowed “Zombie Meg Ryan,” I’d go with that. (Also, for many people, jack-o-lanterns and carved pumpkins and gourds ARE harvest/fall themed.)

He should enlist whatever neighbors agree with him to join this protest, and also campaign for a position on the HOA board.

He should pay the dues on time, keep written records of his correspondence about this, and make a series of choices regarding how far he is willing to take it.

If you don’t like your husband doing this, you can differentiate from him publicly by saying, “He has the right to his own point of view. I don’t happen to agree, but I don’t control him.”

If he is dragging you into a nasty and public fight that will have a serious impact on your own social or home life, and certainly if he becomes obnoxious toward your neighbors, then you should insist that he dial it down. Otherwise, like many spouses who disagree, you should quietly stick to your own knitting and sit this out.Contact Amy Dickinson at: askamy@amydickinson.com

Contact Amy Dickinson at: askamy@amydickinson.com