Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot… but the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT! The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Oh, please don’t ask why, no one quite knows the reason. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. Or maybe his head wasn’t screwed on just right. But I think that the best reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small…
– Dr. Seuss – “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”
With apologies to Dr. Seuss, and with the holiday season fast approaching, many common interest community association boards find themselves in the unenviable position of having to balance enforcing their rules and consider the safety of their residents while trying not to come off looking like Ebenezer Scrooge (before the visits from the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, of course). While an association of single-family homes may be less concerned about restrictions than a high-rise condominium or townhouse association, here are some obvious – but often overlooked – rules to think about when it comes to regulating holiday decorations on common elements and private property:
(1) Be Reasonable and Consistent – Unless your Governing Documents require it and there is a compelling reason to do so, do not prohibit residents from decorating the exteriors of their homes for the holidays. Associations should adopt uniform rules and communicate these rules to the residents so everyone is on the same page as to what they can and cannot display. Further, if your association does ban holiday decorations, it is essential to be consistent and ban all decorations and displays.
(2) Set Reasonable Restrictions – It is reasonable and appropriate to require residents to regulate the time that decorations may be displayed and, sometimes more importantly, when they should be removed. It is also reasonable to regulate the time of day that lights or other features may be illuminated so as not to create an unreasonable nuisance for neighbors or additional safety issues. Avoid, if at all possible, venturing into unchartered territory of restricting religious displays, which may open up a proverbial (no pun intended) can of worms.
(3) Do Not Argue Over Aesthetics – We all know that not everyone has exquisite taste in decorating, but if the board or architectural review committee are arguing over what is tasteful and what is not, it may be time to take a closer look at your rules regarding decorations and open a dialogue with the common interest community about what changes they would like to see.
(4) Be Mindful of Decorations on Common Elements – While it is not advisable to prohibit homeowners from decorating their own homes, it is perfectly acceptable to ban residents from decorating general common elements without association approval or that could cause damage. It is also advisable to limit homeowners from affixing decorations to limited common elements if the association is responsible for their maintenance. And again, associations that do choose to decorate common elements, such as clubhouses, entrance ways or lobbies, should avoid religious displays and be mindful to either keep such decorations general – lights and wreaths, for example – or to take extra care to give equal treatment to all religious affiliations.
Overall, it is important to make your holiday decorating rules reasonable and even-handed. Concentrate on what is most important: location, time and place, size and safety, but not content or aesthetic appeal. And just remember, as long as they are not dangerous, the ten-foot tall inflatable Santa, Rudolph or Frosty the Snowman won’t hurt anyone (and won’t be on display forever).