The Finer Points Of Community Decorations

For all the glitter and gold surrounding the holidays, reeling in decorating enthusiasts can prove challenging for neighborhood associations.

It helps to remember that the holiday season means different things to different people. It encompasses a wide variety of religious practices, secular celebrations, and for some, a thing to avoid all costs. Without question, holidays are a touchy subject, which is why Boards often prefer to sidestep the subject altogether.

It is precisely for those issues where sentiments run strong and opinions get heated that guidelines are needed the most.

Here are a few suggestions:

Appeal to reason

The key to successful association management is almost always reasonableness. Consider your goal and work backwards to make sure restrictions reflect the main objective and don’t wander into overregulation. If your goal is to make sure holiday lighting isn't over the top, an outright ban is probably too much. Focus instead on limiting the size and duration of displays. (See below.)

Treat all owners fairly

Remain as content neutral as possible when setting and implementing restrictions so they don’t target one group or practice. Get buy-in from owners and make sure regulations reflect as many views as possible. Underscore the need for compromise in a community, a place where differences must coexist.

Offer solid guidelines

When rules are necessary, the most effective ones are those that leave little room for misinterpretation.

Examples of solid guidelines include:

  • Set time limits - Outline the earliest that decorations can go up and the latest they must come down—(example: no sooner than 30 days before and no later than two weeks after the holiday.)
  • Limit the scope of displays - Specify how many total feet of lights can be hung and where (along the roof line, front door, front windows and one tree in the yard). You may also want to restrict roof-anchored displays (inflatable Santas, manger scenes, etc.).
  • Specify noise restrictions - Consider banning all elements that emit sound or limiting sound to certain hours, say from 9am to 8pm. Volume is somewhat subjective making it hard to set and enforce concrete guidelines so if sound is allowed encourage reasonable levels.

Reserve certain rights

Sometimes it's hard to define what's “over the top” until owners go there. So make sure the final stamp of approval lies with the Board. That way, owners know they may be asked to modify or remove anything outlandish or offensive to the community at large.

Remember the spirit

While aesthetic integrity is important, choose your battles wisely and in the spirit of the season. If a homeowner is an active and good neighbor throughout the year but goes a little overboard during the holidays, is it worth a disagreement (as long as their display isn’t bothering anyone)? You may gain more by accepting the display in the spirit in which it is intended.


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