We decorate for just about everything these days – from Valentine’s Day to New Year’s Eve and everything in between. For many, the familiar decorations that pop up bring a sense of community and comfort. But every community association has rules and standards, and holiday décor is no exception.

As a board member, how can you set limits on allowing residents to deck the halls? Follow 4 simple rules to keep the holiday spirit without décor running amok.

1. Apply the rules fairly.

To make sure you are enforcing your rules fairly, you need to know the ins and outs of your association’s governing documents. If your governing documents prohibit holiday décor outright, then you must enforce that ban across the board – that means all decorations and holiday displays without exception. If holiday decorations are not explicitly prohibited, and your association does not have a specific reason to ban holiday decorations, then reasonable décor that does not pose a safety risk should be allowed. Consider communicating these rules through a letter or website posting prior to each holiday so that residents are reminded of the policy and can decorate accordingly. These communications should be revisited regularly, and new residents should be made aware of them upon moving in. A quality property management company can assist you when drafting these types of communications.

“It’s so important to follow your own bylaws,” says Eric Love, regional director at FirstService Residential in Atlanta. “One board I worked with issued a sudden decree that no holiday décor could be visible in the hallways and sent violation letters to more than 70 people with wreaths on their doors the first week of December,” he recalls. “A new board was installed weeks later and permitted ‘reasonable holiday decorations between Thanksgiving and January 15,’ as spelled out in their own declarations.”

2. Be reasonable.

You will likely find that most residents are open to holiday décor restrictions, such as when decorations are allowed and the size of displays. One way to avoid pushback is to ask residents what matters most to them regarding holiday decorating. When establishing the rules, set a reasonable start and end date for holiday displays throughout the year. Set “time of day” rules. While most people are aware that no one wants holiday lights flickering in their window at 3 a.m., it is still a good idea to remind residents to be considerate of their neighbors with their decorating plans. For those living in a condominium, it is important to also set rules for adhering decorations to the building – doing so may damage the property’s exterior, including the waterproofing. The one area you want to steer clear of is restricting religious displays. This hot button topic can certainly cause friction.

3. Remember that everyone’s tastes and likes are different.

Everyone has their own likes and dislikes, which means there is no one definition of what’s “tasteful.” The wreath you lovingly created may not appeal to everyone; the precious family heirloom that holds great meaning to you may be an eyesore to someone else; the window display you consider a winter wonderland may seem obnoxious to your neighbor. Save yourself the time and frustration by avoiding arguments about the aesthetics of holiday décor. If your board receives a lot of feedback about specific décor styles, consider starting a conversation with all residents about possibly updating your association’s governing documents to address the issue.

4. Common areas have different rules.

Placing holiday décor in a common area that is managed by the community can expose the association to danger and liability. Make sure residents know that these areas are off limits and that only the appropriate committee, the board or management team are allowed to work on any display.

If your community has chosen to decorate certain common areas, such as the lobby or clubhouse, you might want to consider keeping the decorations free from religious imagery or undertones. If your community association is passionate about keeping religious themes in your holiday décor, then make sure you present a balanced display where all faiths are equally represented.

“It is true that it can be challenging to establish guidelines that are palatable for the community at large, but not having a set of guidelines can be disastrous – this is a common pitfall in the community association world,” says Julie Magaldi, general manager for FirstService Residential in Atlanta.  It is well worth the effort to bring owners together who like to decorate and task them with proposing guideline recommendations for the board to consider.

The holidays are typically a time to come together and enjoy the company of those you hold dear. Holiday décor should not take away from that. If you keep your focus on simple rules of location, time, place, size and safety, and keep all other opinions about aesthetics to yourself, you’ll find a way to set holiday décor standards without being a Scrooge.

Tuesday September 12, 2023