With their celebrations, gifts, and good wishes, the holidays are a time to be thankful and festive. Often that means decorating your home, office, and even car. But in some community associations, a resident’s seemingly innocent act of holiday cheer can be interpreted as a malicious disregard for association rules.

How can your association avoid a dispute over holiday decorating? By considering both your residents’ rights to celebrate and your association’s ability to institute architectural guidelines that protect and enhance its aesthetic characteristics. Developing a policy doesn’t have to be a complicated or controversial process.

“Rather than adopt a rule under pressure, why not take the time to think it through before the need arises?” attorney Lucia Anna “Pia” Trigiani writes in her book, Reinventing the Rules: A Step-by-Step Guide for Being Reasonable. “Anticipating your association’s future needs and establishing rules for them now puts you in a proactive rather than reactive position.”

The rulemaking process should involve the entire community:

Committees. The responsibility of researching and drafting the initial policy may fall on the architectural or rules committee, which should poll the board as well as residents to discover their preferences.

Professionals. Consult with your community manager and attorney. These experts might know of other associations that have dealt with the same problem, and they also can help make sure your policy is consistent with your association’s governing documents as well as state and local laws.

Residents. After the committee has drafted the initial policy and the board has reviewed it, it’s time to go back to your residents for feedback. Distribute copies of the proposed language for everyone to review. If applicable, incorporate resident concerns and suggestions into the final policy.

As for how your association handles decorations on common areas, amenities, or community buildings, you might consider the following:

  • If your decorations include religious symbols, make sure that every religion is represented, so as not to alienate or upset anyone.
  • You don’t need to overdo the tinsel and plastic figurines. Sometimes less is more. It’s hard to pull off loads of decorations tastefully.
  • If your decorating plan includes draping outdoor trees with lights, be sure the lights don’t shine in anyone’s windows. Consult with your residents before you start stringing.

Whatever your community decides, don’t lose sight of what’s really important: celebrating the holiday season. This time of year offers great opportunities for your residents to get to know one another and become involved in association operations. It may seem like a lot of work for a bunch of lights and some tinsel, but developing and communicating a reasonable decorations policy can help avoid disputes and keep everyone in the holiday spirit.

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Amy Repke

Amy Repke brings over 15 years of experience to CAI serving as the organization's vice president of communications and marketing. Amy's communications career began in local television news and most recently, she worked as a producer for USA Today Live and Fox News Channel's Special Report in Washington, D.C. In 2013, Amy launched a communications and marketing firm, consulting with clients representing political, financial services, trade associations and nonprofit organizations. Amy has been nominated for four Washington Regional Emmy awards for writing and producing. Amy is a graduate of Old Dominion University, and received a master's degree in Strategic Public Communications from American University. An avid traveler, Amy enjoys playing golf, reading and sipping a glass of wine with her fabulous neighbors in their HOA's gazebo.

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