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What are Your Association's Holiday Decorating Guidelines?

As we enter into the fall and winter seasons, many of your friends and neighbors will soon begin decorating their homes for the holidays. Though the holiday season is intended to be a joyous time of family, friends and togetherness, it can also bring along some headaches for your community if your HOA doesn't have any preestablished holiday decorating guidelines.

By and large, most residents will be respectful of others, decorate tastefully and use common sense when "decking the halls". In fact, some communities may prefer to have very loose guidelines such as simply asking their residents to decorate tastefully; others may choose to make no comment at all on holiday decorating. However, it is always best to be conscious of residents observing different religious holidays and keep in mind there are those who may go a bit overboard with their choice of décor. To avoid arguments and hurt feelings, creating some general guidelines or even an adopting an official policy may ultimately benefit your community when it comes to celebrating the season. 

Formulating a New Holiday Decoration Policy

If your community is considering adopting an official policy, there are of course several things to keep in mind. Above all, any policy concerning holiday décor needs to be fair to all community members. One way to best accomplish this is including as many community members as possible in the drafting of such policy. Creating a committee to poll residents is a great way to find out what the majority of the community thinks about holiday décor and provides an excellent basis for what should be included in such a policy.

Once your Board has come up with what they’d like to include in a new policy, have your community manager look over it to ensure it complies with your association's governing documents as well as all state, local and federal laws.

Then, involve community members in the review process. This can be accomplished by distributing copies for review or even holding a special forum that allows for open discussion regarding the new policy. Giving residents the opportunity to air concerns and suggestions will make a new policy feel more like a group decision and thus be more readily accepted.

What Things Should the New Policy Consider?

·        Time Limits on Decorations - No one wants to see reindeer still adorning someone's lawn in July, right? For this reason, including a time frame for having decorations up may be important. Something along the lines of 30-days prior to and after a holiday is typically considered fair. Also, setting a reasonable evening cut-off time for bright lights or musical decorations might be a good way to keep the peace among neighbors.

·        Common Area Decorations - If the common areas of or entrance to the community are to be decorated, an important consideration to make is whether those decorations will be seasonal, non-religious items or incorporate something that speaks to all faiths that celebrate a holiday in December. Though it may be easy to assume that your entire community celebrates Christmas, for example, that very well may not be true. Keeping common area decorations limited to something simple such as a beautiful light display could be the way to go.

·        Tone of the Policy - It is important to keep a positive tone when enacting a new community policy. Avoid banning things but rather place emphasis on what is allowed - this will encourage residents to follow the rules and actively participate in community holiday festivities.

·        Process for Addressing Violations - Just as with any compliance issues, handling violations regarding holiday decorations must be conducted in a uniform and consistent manner. However your association intends to handle such violations should be addressed in the policy itself and should remain closely aligned with how your community handles other types of violations. For example, a first offense can be addressed with an email or letter simply reminding the resident of the rules and asking them to become compliant; subsequent violations may need to be escalated further. Again, the language addressing this part of the policy should be encouraging residents to remain compliant and keep the holidays enjoyable for all neighbors - it should not come off as punitive or threatening.

Keeping Your Community Informed

Once a new holiday decoration policy has been passed, it is important to be sure that all residents are aware of the new rules. Send out an email blast with the information, put it on your community's website and social media pages if there are any, post it on community bulletin boards, or even send out mailers. It is also important to remind residents of such policies prior to the beginning of each holiday season.

Cultivating a Sense of Togetherness

Though the whole idea of creating new policies certainly doesn't sound very festive, it can create a great opportunity for community activities and for residents to get to know each other and have some fun together. For example, a group of volunteers could be organized to decorate the common elements, a party could be thrown to reveal the final results of the decorations or your community could have a decorating contest with prizes given for the winners. Things like this not only increase resident participation but boost community spirit, encourage compliance and ultimately illustrate that no one's right to celebrate the holidays however they choose is being threatened.