The holidays present the opportunity for each association to increase its members’ feelings of community. Yet, some people don’t want to decorate or don’t celebrate. Others would run up huge electric bills on lights at this time of year. Because of these differences and others, the holidays can be a challenge for a community association and its board. It is the board’s responsibility to adopt reasonable holiday guidelines and apply them equally to all members. When it comes to decorating, the goal is to find a middle ground that permits community members to express their holiday spirit while protecting the comfort and desires of those who do not celebrate in the same way.
In condominium communities, members most likely have a patio or balcony and common stairs they consider decorating. Remember that the association owns the common areas, including landscaping and structures. The association has a responsibility as well as a legal right to maintain safety and equity there, particularly because these areas are shared or very close to one another. Decoration choices can directly affect neighboring members. The association has to set standards of decorating for these areas, but has some latitude based on its community’s unique needs.
For instance, if an owner decides to install holiday lights, he or she is most likely going to use nails or screws, which will penetrate the building. Over time, nails and screws that create holes in wood and stucco could cause building maintenance problems (e.g. water intrusion into the wood or structure).
Consequently, the association should set policy on where and how holiday lighting and other decorations may be installed on patios, balconies and common area building structures, etc. However, there are several non-invasive methods for hanging decorations. This gives your association the option to permit decorations if they are installed using the methods you determine to be best for your community.
Planned Unit Developments/Single Family Homes
For Planned Unit Developments or Single Family Homes, the individual units are usually visual as well as physically separate from each other. As a consequence, there are fewer guidelines required. The central guidelines in these communities involves the date the decorations can go up and when they have to come down again.
No lights, no spirit
The most common mistake for a new board is to go to extremes by not allowing homeowners to decorate their homes at all. This will create a division between the community governance and other homeowners. The board of directors has a duty to be responsible, but must be reasonable by permitting the owners the opportunity to express their holiday spirit with reasonable rules & guidelines.
Dealing with Grinches
The holidays can be an emotional time of year. Some homeowners express that emotion by not complying with guidelines, making the holidays more difficult for everyone. The first step in correcting this situation is requesting the homeowner follow the association guidelines. As a last resort, the association can have the decorations removed at the owner’s expense.
There are many parameters to consider when discussing your community’s decorating guidelines. First, set time lines. When can decorations go up and when must they be removed at the beginning and end of the season? It is common to allow holiday decorations to be put up after Thanksgiving Day and removed by January 31st. Evaluating what worked in prior years and what didn’t work, often leads to the fairest, most workable policies. As in the example of the alternative to nails mentioned above, look for creative options.
In some communities, holiday excitement can raise additional issues. Do you need to take into consideration traffic from outside visitors who come to view the decorated homes? Do you need to hire traffic control services during the holidays? Do you need guidelines for running lights across streets? Remember to check with your local fire department for height restrictions, so you can make sure emergency vehicles can get through the streets.
The Holiday Spirit
This is a time to come together. Think about what your options are for generating opportunities to further build that feeling of community. Is a contest for the “best decorated home” the right opportunity for your association?
Good luck with your holiday decorating guidelines. Please share your successes and ideas with us!
Cyndi Koester is the Senior Vice President, Community Association Services with Sunwest Bank. She joined Sunwest Bank in March 2014. Prior to joining Sunwest Bank Cyndi worked for a National Bank within the Industry for 8 years. Cyndi has been involved in the HOA Industry since 1980 as a Community Manager.