It’s already early October, which means that Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza and New Years are fast approaching.  With some of these holidays comes a real desire by residents in community associations to celebrate by decorating their homes.

Holiday decorating can be a great way to build community spirit in associations or can be a gut-wrenching experience. While there is no way to guarantee that the holiday season will be a festive and controversy-free time in your communities, here are some general principles that community associations should keep in mind when addressing covenants, rules and enforcement relating to holiday decorating:

  1. Be Reasonable and Don’t Rain on the Parade of Homeowners Unless Absolutely Necessary.  Unless your governing documents require it and there’s a compelling reason to do so, do not prohibit residents from decorating the exteriors of their homes for the holidays.  While it’s true that not everyone has exquisite taste in decorating, reasonable rules can make even the most gauche decorations palatable for a short period of time.  If your association does ban holiday decorations, it’s essential that all decorative displays be prohibited.  You should not permit holiday decorations for one holiday and prohibit them for others.
  2. Set Reasonable Timeframes for Holiday Displays to be in Place.  There’s nothing aesthetically tackier than a dead holiday wreath hanging on a door in the middle of the summer or a rotten pumpkin frozen to a front door step in the middle of the winter. As a result, it’s both reasonable and appropriate for associations to have rules in place that regulate the time prior to holidays that decorations can be placed on or around the exteriors of homes and the time after the holidays that the decorations must be removed.  Again, it’s important to be reasonable with these timeframes.
  3. Set Reasonable Timeframes for Holiday Displays that Include Illumination.  It’s not uncommon these days to see holiday lights displayed for the 4th of July, Halloween, Christmas, New Years and other holidays too.  However, depending upon the type of the community and the lights being displayed, it may be reasonable for your association to create rules that regulate the time of day lighted decorations may be illuminated so as to not create an unreasonable nuisance for neighbors.  Regulations relating to safety concerns connected to displays that include illumination may also be reasonable.
  4. It’s Reasonable to Prohibit Homeowners from Placing or Affixing Decorations to General Common Elements.  While it’s not politically advisable to prohibit residents from decorating their own homes or placing decorations on limited common elements, it’s perfectly acceptable to ban residents from decorating general common elements without association approval and doing anything that could potentially damage the common elements.  It’s also acceptable to limit homeowners from affixing items on limited common elements that could be damaging if the association is responsible for maintenance or repair of the limited common elements.
  5. Don’t Ask your Architectural Review Committee to Be Martha Stewart.  Don’t require homeowners in your association to apply for Architectural Review Committee (“ARC”) approval to display holiday decorations and don’t put the ARC in the position of making determinations on what are tasteful holiday decorations and whether homeowner will be permitted to display them.  This is a no-win situation for everyone involved and is guaranteed to create controversy.

If your association has covenants and rules in place addressing holiday decorations that may no longer fit the dynamics of your association, it’s time to start thinking about whether they need to be changed, to begin a dialogue with homeowners to determine what changes they would like to see made and to investigate the steps you association needs to take to amend your covenants and revise rules.

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