In this series, we ask our experts for their advice on real-life situations that residents and board members of a homeowners’ association (HOA) are currently facing. Read on to learn about a dilemma seen in many HOAs and what our experts advise.
HOA Dilemma: Holiday Decoration Enforcement
The holidays are a fun and exciting time of year, and residents of homeowners’ associations often decorate their houses in celebration of the upcoming festivities. We all know how important it is for families to decorate their homes for the holidays, but we’re also reminded of the rules and regulations that limit such modifications in HOAs. What’s some advice that you would give to a board of directors in enforcing the CC&Rs during the holidays and maintaining a very merry season in their community?
Manager’s Advice: Consult the Governing Documents First
“When preparing to review communities for holiday or seasonal decoration violations, always confirm the specific language as written in the rules. Some rules may have restrictions for ‘holiday’ decorations only, as opposed to a catch-all rule for ‘seasonal’ decorations. Some documents may have rules to encompass both, but always consult the governing documents and use reasonable discretion.
Generally, holiday decorations would be defined as distinct representations of various religious or non-religious holidays, like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day. December religious holidays, such as Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, carry different symbolism and colors. Therefore, it’s important to evaluate the decorations in question to make a determination. Many homeowners have strong emotional connections to religious holidays, so we always want to be mindful and precise to avoid any unnecessary conflict.
Rules may include timeframes for installation and removal of décor before and after the date of each specific holiday. However, in certain geographic locations, the weather can remain bitterly cold through the end of February or early March. Exterior decorative items may be frozen into the ground, holiday lights hung along gutters may be iced over, and homeowners may not be able to physically remove the decorations within the specified timeframe. The homeowner doesn’t intend to disregard the rules, so a board may wish to allow homeowners a grace period until weather conditions warm up.”
- Lisa Evans, CMCA®, AMS®, PCAM®, Community Association Manager, Associa Chicagoland
Manager’s Advice: Be Reasonable
“Nobody wants to be considered a Grinch, but it is the responsibility of the board and management to follow the CC&Rs. Some people may want to take advantage of unseasonably warmer temps to hang holiday decorations and others might be looking to get an early start on holiday festivities. For those who want to start their holiday prep in advance, I suggest the board be reasonable and find a compromise.
What has been successful in the past with the boards I manage is the allowance of hanging exterior lights and décor on homes, trees, and shrubbery, but not illuminating until the rules permit. Installation of all other lawn décor should be on hold until the rules allow for seasonal decorations.
After the holidays, weather in the Midwest is unpredictable. I have found that boards tend to be more lenient when faced with freezing temperatures and a lot of snow. Instead of issuing a violation, I recommend sending a courtesy letter with a reasonable date for compliance (weather permitting). When the board is accommodating, they’re better respected and trusted by the community.”
- Lynn Schubbe, Community Manager, Associa Chicagoland
Manager’s Advice: Send Nice Reminders
“During this time of year, I like to send a friendly note via Volo Village and TownSq, reminding everyone of the proper community etiquette for holiday decorations. I also insert a ‘Happy Holidays’ message with a coupon or statement mailing. Although enforcing the rules can at times be tricky, friendly reminders seem to communicate to residents in a heartfelt and thoughtful way how to celebrate within the guidelines of the community.”
- Rose Jurczewski, CMCA®, AMS®, Community Association Manager, Associa Chicagoland
5 HOA Holiday Best Practices for a Very Merry Season
At Associa, we have a long history of helping HOA boards keep the magic of the holidays in the air by ensuring their community is calm and bright. Download our FREE ebook, “5 HOA Holiday Best Practices for a Very Merry Season,” to learn what to do to ensure a holly, jolly winter in your community.