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How Your Board Can Balance HOA Rules with Holiday Decor

During the holiday season, many homeowners enjoy decorating their property. Read here to learn how your board can balance HOA rules with holiday decor.
Kara Cermak, CMCA®, AMS®, PCAM® | Dec 12, 2023 | 4 min read
The Santa House

The holidays are a time of bright light displays, inflatable santas, addictively repetitive melodies, and family visitors. The holiday season can mean something else entirely, though. For many HOA board members and homeowners, it can mean a fight! Holiday decorations are oftentimes in violation of the community's guidelines and governing documents, but how well are your community rules being enforced, and how happy are your residents?

Associations looking to keep the peace are rethinking their approach to decoration enforcement this year. This year, it's time to think of decoration rules in a simple and positive way. Even stubborn over decorators can be approached with understanding, and the right negotiation might just get that giant laughing Santa off the roof in a few days. 

Make the Rules Simple and Early

Overcomplicated decoration rules are a leading cause of violations. Every HOA can benefit from carefully simplifying the decoration rules. The rules were likely written progressively over many years and several councils. But for each individual year, they should be compact and make sense.

So hold a meeting and compile all the decoration regs into a simple set of rules. Write it in plain language that any reader can understand. Then publish these simplified rules as early in the year as possible. Catch your over decorators before their first seasonal visit to Hobby Lobby.

Give the Decoration Calendar a Positive Spin

Residents often chafe against the decoration calendar. It's become a symbol of enforcement and "the Power", even if that power is only used to banish snowflake decorations before Valentine's Day. Each year, the calendar announces battles to come. This year, try giving your decoration calendar a positive spin. Send out a newsletter celebrating the approach of a new decoration seasonal period with an announcement of the end of that period.

If you add more decoration periods and encourage a "palette cleansing" period between holidays, your over decorators may be more able to get onboard the calendar limitations.

Emphasize Structural Safety and Neighborhood Peace

Some people won't give up their singing Frosty or inflated Santa just because the rules say. But they will make changes when faced with good reasons. This year, your top go-to reasons should be structural safety and neighborhood peace. Always look for the safety angle - and if you can't find one consider reassessing the law. You can also argue for the peace of the neighborhood.

Singing and noise-making decorations are always a no-go and most homeowners will understand. Homeowners will often agree to tone down the luminescence of their flashing lights or perhaps turn off the lights after 10 PM so everyone can get some sleep.

Publish a Decoration FAQ and Holiday Pages on Your HOA Website

Make your decoration rules easy to find. If you have an HOA website, this is the perfect place for a home decoration FAQ where residents can easily look up the guidelines. Create a unique page for every holiday as well as a general decorations page that everyone can follow. Include a contact link for questions, and you can head off many potential conflicts just by making the regulations available.

Incentivize On-Regulation Displays with a Contest

Your biggest conflicts come from people who love the holidays and want to go all-out in celebration. So instead of opposing them, work with them. Hold a holiday decoration contest. Include several categories like:

  • Cutest Gingerbread House
  • Best Lightshow
  • Subtlest Holiday Decorations
  • Most Creative Scenery
  • Best Miniatures
  • Most Pet-Friendly Holiday Yard
  • Most Interactive Display

Along with other neat options. Then make being on-regulation a prerequisite for entry and winning. Then publicize the entire contest so that those who love the holidays aggressively will want to get involved - and therefore be motivated to conform to the rules to win.

When Enforcing - Be Ready to Offer Compromises

Be ready to compromise with your homeowners who want to fight. A compromise can quickly turn into things going your way - if you're willing to give the first inch. Those who are ready to fight over their decor are ready for you to fight back just as hard. So give way a little. Ask if they'll put the light show on a timer. Ask that only the unsafe roof decorations come down. Suggest a backyard wonderland of their private holiday beliefs. 

If you stick to your guns - safety, and peace - and are willing to compromise on a few things, your most stubborn over-decorators will more likely be ready to compromise as well.

Provide Assistance Decorating and Taking Decorations Down 

Finally, be ready to offer assistance. Homeowners don't always have the freedom or ability to decorate (or take down decorations) when they want to. You might connect families to a decorating service that will get the house festive and help them stay inside HOA guidelines. Elderly, busy, and handicapped homeowners  - in particular - will benefit from services to help take down their decorations on time.

Final Thoughts

This year, we'd rather feel the holiday spirit with the neighborhood than have a head-to-head battle about another ho-ho-ho-ing inflatable Santa. With a little preparation, information, and a positive attitude we might just keep the peace for everyone. This could be the relaxing holiday season that we all need.

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