The holidays are a time of celebration and merriment. For many, a festive looking home sets the tone for parties and family gatherings. As you consider your holiday decorations, it’s important to remember that many HOAs have restrictions on outdoor décor.
Doing your part to understand – and even help shape the rules – can help you and your neighbors avoid warnings and fines, and may even bring you closer together. And after all, isn’t that what the holidays are about?
Ask Questions. Before you start hanging the twinkling lights, you should check with your HOA to see what the restrictions are on outdoor lighting. They may have a timeframe that you need to adhere to when installing and removing lights. If you’re new in your neighborhood, ask your HOA Board how strict these guidelines are. Some HOAs will be more flexible this time of year, but when in doubt, stick to what you have in writing.
Know Your Rights. As private entities, your HOA may be allowed to prevent religious displays. However, such bans must be enforced against all religions equally. If you believe your religious rights have been violated, speak with your HOA Board and do some research on your state’s laws regarding this issue and the Fair Housing Act.
Watch the Accusations. Your HOA probably has reasons for their decoration restrictions, and none of those reasons are to ruin the holidays. HOA rules are in place to promote safety and peace in the neighborhood. If you don’t understand why a specific rule is in place, ask! Don’t make assumptions or accusations. Maybe large, attention-grabbing displays aren’t allowed because they increase traffic to dangerous levels. Perhaps inflatables are prohibited because they are a tripping hazard. If your Board can’t give you a good reason why a rule is on the books, then request a group discussion of it at your next meeting. Change can happen if communication is open!
Be Sensitive. Don’t like your neighbor’s holiday display? Before you rush to the Board to request that their décor be banned, speak to your neighbor. Use a friendly tone and ask them why they chose those decorations. Maybe it’s for religious reasons, or maybe it’s simply something that reminds them of Christmastime when they were a child. In any case, consider their joy against your temporary annoyance. Is it really worth fighting just because you find their lighting to be a little bit tacky?
Likewise, think about how your décor will affect others. If your next door neighbors have a new baby who is barely sleeping through the night, a noisy set up is definitely going to be unwelcome– even if there is no specific rule prohibiting it. You’re going to continue to be neighbors long after the holidays, so taking the high road will make for smoother sailing in the future.
On the Board? Board members need to make sure that the HOA is treating everyone fairly. An understanding of your state’s laws is important when discussing religious freedoms. Once you’re sure that you’re doing the right thing under the law, do the right thing as a neighbor. Don’t make a threatening letter your first approach when dealing with violations. Be thoughtful, be patient, and don’t take things personally. Understand that this time of year can be stressful for many and emotions can run high, especially when dealing with something as personal as holiday traditions.
Most people will agree that it is not the decorations we remember when we look back at holidays passed. We remember the time spent with people we care about. We share our communities with our neighbors all year; the holidays are a great opportunity to strengthen these bonds. Remember the spirit of the season and be generous with your kindness!