With the holiday season right around the corner, many owners and residents are getting their holiday decorations out and starting to decorate their homes—both inside and out. This is also the time that board members and community managers get ready to enforce their restrictions when it comes to decorative displays.

However, this is also the season when board members should take a step back and ensure their holiday rules do not violate fair housing laws. Specifically, now is the time to make sure the rules do not discriminate based on religion or nationality. This type of discrimination occurs when people of one religion or nationality are treated differently than other people of other religions and nationalities.

Keep in mind, discrimination does not have to be intentional, but regardless of intent, liability remains the same. To help ensure your community does not have discriminatory holiday rules, below is a checklist, and examples, of do’s and don’ts for holiday rules:

Do not use dates —Rules should not contain dates, or even months identifying the holiday.

  • Right: Holiday decorations may be placed on the exterior of the residence no more than 30 days before the holiday and must be removed no more than 30 days after the holiday.
  • Wrong: Holiday decorations may be put up as early as November 10, and must be removed no later than January 10.

What’s the problem with dates? Including dates automatically excludes holidays that fall outside those times and is therefore a mechanism to treat some holidays differently than other holidays.

 Do not name holidays

  • Right: Holiday decorations may be placed on the exterior of the residence no more than 30 days before the holiday and must be removed no more than 30 days after the holiday.
  • Wrong: Christmas decorations may be put up on or after November 10 of each year, and must be removed by January 10th of each year.

Naming specific holidays automatically excludes other holidays. Therefore, unless your community is prepared to name every holiday known to man, the safest option is to stay away from holiday names.

 Do say “Happy Holidays”—when communicating on behalf of the association (as opposed to personally as an owner/resident) it is again recommended to stay away from naming holidays when posting banners, writing community newsletters, etc.

Do treat all holidays the same—whether owners are celebrating summer, winter, spring, or fall holidays, the rules should be the same all holidays. Don’t carve out different rules for winter holidays than summer holidays.

  • Right: Decorative holiday lights are allowed 30 days before the holiday starts, and must be removed 15 days after the holiday concludes.
  • Wrong: No decorative lights are allowed except during the winter holidays between November 15th and January 15th of each year.

If you aren’t sure whether your holiday rules comply with fair housing laws, make sure to consult with the association’s legal counsel.

Please do not hesitate to contact an Altitude Community Law attorney at 303.432.9999 if you have any additional questions concerning holiday decorations.