Four ways to set decoration policies for your HOA without being a grinch
Make this holiday season the best one yet!
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The holiday season is upon us, and nothing puts people in a festive mood like pulling the holiday decorations out of storage. In fact, many derive a sense of community and comfort from seeing familiar decorations at the same time each year.
That being said, it’s important to remember to be mindful of your community’s rules and regulations. And as a board member, you along with your association management team are responsible for enforcing them.
So how can you successfully do this without being labelled the community grinch? Follow these tips to maintain peace and harmony this holiday season.
1. Fairly apply the rules
To apply the rules fairly, you need to know your governing documents forwards and backwards. If there’s an outright ban on holiday decor, then the ban needs to be nicely enforced across all decorations and displays for all holidays throughout the year. You can’t make exceptions.
On the other hand, if your governing documents don’t prohibit them explicitly, and you don’t see a reason to do so, then allow reasonable decor that doesn’t pose a safety risk.
The types of décor allowed or any specific rules on how lights or other décor can be installed needs to be clearly communicated. This can be done through a simple letter, website or community board posting and should be done prior to each holiday season. Refresh these communications regularly. An excellent community association management company will be instrumental in helping you draft an effective communications plan.
2. Be reasonable
Most residents are receptive to holiday decor restrictions. However, consider surveying residents to learn what matters most to them. If appropriate, set a reasonable start date and end date for holiday displays for the entire year. Same goes for time-of-day rules – nobody wants holiday lights flickering in their window at three in the morning.
The holiday season can have religious significance to many. And because communities are so diverse in faith, background, beliefs and traditions, you must be mindful of that. It’s important your policies regarding holiday décor are not discriminatory.
A great way to foster a sense of community and show inclusion, is to incorporate décor items that represent all the different holidays into your lobby or common area displays.
3. Remember that tastes are different
A precious heirloom decoration that holds great meaning for you may be an eyesore for someone else. The light display you see as a whimsical window treatment may seem obnoxious to a neighbor. The wreath you lovingly crafted might seem like a crime against branches to another person.
The moral of the story, we all have different likes and dislikes, so nobody can define what’s “tasteful” for everyone. Save yourself time and frustration by refraining from arguing about aesthetics. If you get a lot of feedback about particular styles of decor, start a dialog with all residents about updating your association’s governing documents.
4. Your common areas have different rules
Here’s where it all gets pretty black and white. If it’s part of a common area, residents should not be decorating it without the permission of the board. Placing holiday decor in an area that the community must maintain, like a hallway, opens the association and residents up to danger and liability. Make sure your residents know these areas are clearly off limits.
It’s also important for residents to understand what limited common elements are and how they can be used. This can be especially important if you have tenants that rent a unit from an owner. A limited common element refers to an aspect of a condominium unit or HOA that is considered to be the property of the association. And these elements can be found within or outside individual units. While these elements are deemed common, their use is limited to the occupant of the unit. Examples of limited common elements include balconies, and shared outdoor spaces such as patios and terraces.
All this to say, associations have a say in how tenants can use their balconies. So, if there are important dos and don’ts when it comes to a resident decorating their balcony for the holidays, it’s important they are clearly communicated ahead of time. A lot of condominium governing documents restrict items on balconies for safety reasons. If flags or signs are against the rules on balconies all year long, the holiday season is not the time to make an exception.
If with the proper permission your association chooses to decorate a common area for the holidays, like the lobby, this a great way to get the community involved. Consider putting a holiday committee together. This can allow for residents to volunteer and help spread some holiday cheer. Working with the board, this committee can help design and install the holiday display for everyone to enjoy.
If something isn’t working, reevaluate
The holiday season is stressful as it is. The last thing you want to do is add to the stress by having to deal with a number of holiday décor rule violations and complaints. How to avoid this depends on how you as a board approach holiday décor and how you communicate the rules with your residents.
Keep your focus on simple, easy to follow rules that don’t stifle your resident’s holiday spirit too much. Rules about location, time, place, size and safety are easier to enforce than nitpicky, hard to understand rules about aesthetic.
If you experience a holiday season full of complaints and find a rule really isn’t working, reevaluate. It's important to remember that most rules don’t need to be set in stone. As the makeup of your community changes, what’s important to residents will change as well. Meaning that a community that may have once consisted of people that preferred an understated holiday season, may now consist of young families that want more vibrant décor.
When it comes to holiday décor, you can’t please everyone. But with well thought out rules that are regularly reviewed, you can maintain a harmonious holiday season and keep the grinch away.
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