Though the holidays are typically thought of as a celebratory time, they can pose some problems to community associations – especially when it comes to decorations.  As in all things, your neighbors will have differing subjective tastes, ranging from those who denounce all forms of decorations as tacky to those whose holiday spirit appears to be fueled by steroids.

 

Some associations may wish to regulate holiday decoration in their communities.  In most cases, an association’s governing documents will permit the Board to adopt rules and regulations governing the exterior appearance of properties.  However, the Board should first confirm such authority exists.  Likewise, the Board must confirm that any rules adopted are consistent with the community’s covenants and bylaws.

 

While the Board may have authority to adopt rules, it should consider whether such regulations are truly desirable and necessary.  In making this determination, the Board should first consider the desires and preferences of the community’s owners and whether there is a genuine need for restrictions.  Restricting holiday decorations may be necessary and desirable in some associations, but in many communities, they may be viewed as needlessly restrictive, nitpicky and harsh, thereby causing contempt for the Board and divisiveness in the community.  Similarly, with new restrictions comes additional enforcement responsibility.  The Board must consider whether the benefit of restricting holiday decorations, if any, is worth the additional responsibility it is taking on to police and enforce new rules.

 

If considering adoption of rules, the Board should first solicit community involvement.  It is not advisable to simply issue an edict to the community without obtaining input from the owners.  Secondly, rules should be limited to those which are reasonably related to protection of property values and bear some relationship to the health, safety and enjoyment of the community as a whole.  Overly subjective or arbitrary restrictions should be avoided.

 

For the most part, it is not advisable for the Board to focus on regulating the type of decorations installed.  Taking on such subjective powers can, at best, lead to headaches and, at worst, lead to charges of unfair treatment or discrimination.  In particular, Boards should never attempt to regulate in such a way that would give preference to certain religions over others.  Care must be taken to ensure guidelines are culturally neutral and inclusive of all religions and religious holidays, regardless of whether the holiday is viewed as “traditional.”

 

Limitations based upon scheduling and timing are generally acceptable.  For instance, many associations limit decorations to a certain period of time before and after each holiday.  Other acceptable restrictions include those which would implicate safety or the right of others to use and enjoy their properties.  For instance, the Board may wish to prohibit decorations which create sight limitations or blind spots in the road, or which shine into the windows of neighboring properties.  The Board could also restrict decorations which potentially pose a safety hazard or risk to persons or property.  Timing is another consideration.  For instance, a rule requiring that light and/or music shows end at 10 p.m. during the week and 11:30 p.m. on the weekend is sensible so that neighbors are not disturbed in the late evening by large amounts of traffic, noise or lighting.

 

The Board can prohibit any form of decoration or construction in a community’s common areas.  Some associations may do their own decorating in common areas.  However, if the Board does decide to decorate, it must be careful to ensure such decorations are culturally and religiously neutral.  In fact, it is not unwise to completely avoid decorating the common area so as to avoid any unintended allegations of religious bias or discrimination.

 

As a general rule, it is best not to over regulate when it comes to holiday decorations.  Any guidelines or rules adopted should be reasonable in nature and agreeable to the community at large.  Overly subjective, arbitrary or unnecessary restrictions, or guidelines which are directly or indirectly based upon religion should be avoided.

 

If approached carefully and correctly, holiday restrictions can serve to benefit all owners and limit (instead of increasing) holiday stress.

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