Deck the Halls… Part Deux

This is the second of three posts that address holiday decorations and related rules enforcement. Before Thanksgiving, we addressed issues related to community decorations put up by associations. This post covers decoration rules for owners. The final installment next week will focus on the need for neutral enforcement of the rules related to holiday decorations.

Decoration Rules for Owners

Most community associations have provisions preventing owners from modifying or placing anything in a common area. Even if such a prohibition is not found in the “house rules,” the declarations or covenants of many associations may speak to this. So, before an owner decorates an area that can be seen from the common area, he or she should check not only the house rules, but read all of the governing documents to determine whether there are restrictions upon decorating in limited common areas as well.

Unlike the community’s own decorations, however, it would be unwise for an association to put an outright ban on religious decoration by the owners. The FHA restrictions referenced last week do not prohibit religious displays by private homeowners. On the contrary, members 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.

Rules containing restrictions on decorations should be religion-neutral in language and in effect. Such rules should be reasonable and focus on reasonable restrictions such as the placement of decorations only in units or limited common areas. Safety-related rules are also important, so an association may require that displays not include lit candles, but can allow the display of unlit candles, which are a popular symbol of numerous year-end holidays. The association could also consider rules that would limit the effect of decorations upon neighbors, such as requiring that light-up decorations be turned off after 8:00 p.m.

Next week, we’ll focus on a case where the Association was accused of exercising its discretion to enforce a neutral rule in a discriminatory manner. Remember that the holidays can conjure up strong emotions, whether religiously based or not, and the more an association does to prohibit expression, the more likely it is that it will have to deal with homeowner objections to such rules. Participation by all members of community is the best way to eliminate complaints and ensure a safe and harmonious holiday season.

Happy Holidays!

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