By Jonathan H. Katz, Esq.

“Every idiot who goes about with Merry Christmas on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

Ebenezer Scrooge ~ from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”

With the holiday season in full swing, many community association boards are in the unenviable position of having to balance enforcement of their rules and regulations related to holiday decorations while trying not to come off looking like Ebenezer Scrooge (pre-ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, of course). And 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 both common elements and homeowner property:

  • Be Consistent and Reasonable – Unless required by your governing documents or there is a compelling reason to do so, do not totally 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 (as well as where it can be displayed). However, if your association does have a blanket ban holiday decorations, it must be consistent and ban all decorations and displays.
  • Set Reasonable Restrictions – It is reasonable and appropriate for a board to enact regulations with respect to when decorations may be displayed and, more importantly, when they must be removed. It is also reasonable to regulate the time of day that lights or other features may be used 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. Also, be mindful that not everyone celebrates the same holidays (for example, Diwali – the Hindu “Festival of Lights” – occurs in late October/early November each year).
  • Be Mindful of Decorations on Common Elements – Again, 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. 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.
  • Do Not Argue Over Aesthetics – Not everyone has the same 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.

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 will not hurt anyone (and will not be on display forever).

For more information on this or any other issue concerning your community association, please contact one of our Community Associations attorneys.