Associations and Holiday Decorations

Colorado attorney and blogger Stan Jezierski wrote a recent post entitled Holiday Decorations and the Fair Housing Act.  Although many persons are tired of hearing of controversies over something as seemingly innocuous as holiday decorations, as evidenced by the recent headlines the State of Washington created for its holiday display in the capitol building in Olympia, I thought this was a topical issue to address for our readers, as well.  Here is the edited article:

With the holiday season upon us, many homeowners associations are putting up lights and other decorations on the common areas. While there is nothing wrong with fully celebrating the holiday season, associations should take care to ensure that decorations and holiday displays do not give the impression that the community favors one particular religion over another. Such action could subject the association to discrimination claims under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and other federal and state fair housing laws.

Religious decorations and displays on the common areas may suggest to residents and guests that the community favors people who are of a particular religious affiliation. For example, extensive holiday decorations consisting of nativity scenes and crucifixes may suggest that Christians are favored in the community, or even that residents and visitors who are not Christian are unwelcome.

The safest course of action is to put up only general holiday decorations on the common areas, such as lights and wreaths. Santa Claus images, candy-striped poles, and decorated trees are most likely acceptable, as are general statements such as happy holidays. If there is mention of Christmas or use of Christian symbols in a display, there should also be equal reference to Hanukkah or other requested religious holidays. An association should take care to give equal treatment to all other religious affiliations.

An equally important point to remember is that FHA restrictions do not apply to religious displays by private homeowners. While common area religious displays should either be avoided or carefully monitored, residents of the community should be allowed, within the association’s rules and regulations, to display personal religious items in their homes and on their property.  However, religious symbols that exceed seasonal display may run afoul of an association’s CC&Rs (check out the following Virginia news report).

The overall goal of the FHA is to allow members of community to feel comfortable about their religious affiliation. Common area decorations shouldn’t create a feeling of being left out. Open participation by all members of community is the best way to eliminate complaints and ensure a safe, happy and harmonious holiday season.

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