With the holiday season upon us, Americans are in need of a little extra cheer more than ever this year. And though our holiday celebrations may look a little different from years past, many people will still try to brighten up their lives and the lives of those around them by putting up their traditional holiday decorations. In fact, according to many news outlets, people have begun adorning their homes with tinsel and twinkle lights earlier than ever this year. Great idea, right?
Well, maybe. If you live in a condominium or homeowner's association, you may want to pause for a moment and consider your community's rules and regulations because there could be some regulations surrounding when you can put up your holiday displays, how long you're allowed to keep them up, or if you can even put them up at all. No, no one is trying to be a Grinch here, but it must be kept in mind that community associations adopt rules and regulations in part to ensure that communities are harmonious, esthetically pleasing places to live.
Also keep in mind that in condominiums, just about everything outside your unit is limited common area or common area and the board may not allow any decorations in the common areas. You would not want unit owners putting fasteners in the windows or door frames or in siding or stucco walls to hang decorations as this could lead to maintenance or water intrusion issues in the future.
So, with these things in mind, let's explore some ways you can spread some extra cheer this holiday season without becoming the Clark Griswold of your neighborhood.
Tips for Board Members
- The Rulemaking Process
When considering holiday décor policies for your community, you must first consult the governing documents. Are there provisions allowing the board to enact regulations that pertain to decorations on owners’ private lots? Are there guidelines that speak to décor in the common areas? If the governing documents allow guidelines regarding holiday decorations, it is best to involve the entire community as much as possible when establishing them. Polling members is a great way to get a feel for how the community feels about things like lighting displays, musical decorations, and inflatables. Including this feedback while developing policies will aid in ensuring a happy membership when it comes time to deck the halls.
Also, if you're adding rules to or changing your community's holiday decorating policies, it's best to start this process as early as possible and to allow plenty of time to distribute any changes to the membership so they're aware of changes prior to the holiday season. And, it is advisable to consult with your community manager or association's attorney to be sure that any changes or additions aren't at odds with other governing documents.
- Enforcing the Rules
Rules are pretty useless if they can't be enforced, right? That's why the language used in any association policy must be clear and, yes, enforceable. Saying something like "no gaudy displays" could mean something different to everyone you ask, so is there really any way to enforce that? Probably not. Also, when enforcing rules regarding holiday décor, the association must be sure that rules are enforced consistently.
- Avoiding Conflict
Though conflict is sometimes inevitable when there are differing opinions involved, there are a few ways that board members can try to lessen such in their communities. As we've already mentioned, rules should be clear and avoid vague language. They should also be enforced consistently throughout the community. But what about conflicts between neighbors? Do board members or community managers have an obligation to step in? The short answer is no - the obligation of board members and community managers is only to ensure that community rules are being followed and to take action if there are compliance issues. However, those who govern and manage community associations can encourage residents to speak with their neighbors prior to putting up holiday displays if they think there might be an issue with their choice of décor, therefore eliminating a source of conflict before it ever arises.
Board members should also be sure that any policies created do not in any way exclude or give preference to one religious holiday over another. For example, a policy allowing red and green lights only might be perceived as giving preference to Christmas when there may be community members who observe Hanukkah or other holidays around the same time of year.
Tips for Homeowners
- Know the Rules (and follow them!)
As we mentioned above, your community association may have some guidelines that pertain to holiday decorations. While it's the association's job to inform homeowners of these guidelines and enforce them, it is the homeowner's job to abide by them. So, if your community has rules and regulations regarding how long before and after a holiday your decorations may be displayed, you probably shouldn’t plan on putting them up in September and leaving them there until March.
Communities may also have restrictions on types or amount of lighting, whether you can have musical decorations or if inflatable decorations are allowed. The bottom line is, whatever the community guidelines state, you should follow them when decorating your home to avoid potential compliance issues.
- Remember, Taste is Subjective
Just because you may think having a few dozen 10-foot tall inflatables in the yard, thousands of twinkle lights on your house and a jazzy holiday tune playing on a loop 24/7 is the pinnacle of taste, doesn't mean your neighbors agree. When planning your exterior holiday décor, keep in mind that you have neighbors and consider how your decorations might affect them. If your decorations make noise, is it loud? Are you playing it late into the night? Do you have lights shining into their windows at night? Could those inflatables easily blow away and cause a safety hazard to others?
- Be Considerate
Besides considering your community's rules and regulations, considering the comfort of your neighbors is another important part of deciding how to decorate your home and celebrate the holidays. If you have a holiday gathering (with less than 10 people for those of you in NC!), be sure that you’ve arranged parking for your guests as to not block in or otherwise disturb your neighbors. And if your gathering will be going on late into the evening, remind guests to keep it down if they’re outside.
Being considerate of those around you will help avoid conflict and ensure that everyone has an enjoyable holiday season. Plus, you don't want neighborhood feud akin to The Griswolds vs. Todd and Margo on your hands (yes, we really like Chevy Chase's Christmas Vacation and we're not ashamed!).
The bottom line here is that everyone should enjoy the holiday season however they see fit but must do so in a way that doesn't infringe upon their neighbors' right to also peacefully enjoy theirs. So, with a little planning, consideration, and consulting the community rules, everyone can have the relaxing, joyous and well-deserved holiday season we so desperately need this year.
If your community needs some help regarding holiday decorations or the policies surrounding them, please reach out to the experts at CAMS for trusted guidance.