How to Write Holiday Decoration Guides for Community Associations
Holiday decorations are part of what makes the season so magical. Driving past houses that give the impression of gingerbread cottages and warm holiday cabins is a special sight. Of course, there are always a few houses that go overboard. When decorations become gaudy or distracting hazards, many HOAs feel inclined to draw the line. What rules can an HOA legally and reasonably make for holiday home decorations? How do you define what is attractive and acceptable while still giving homeowners freedom to decorate to their tastes?
Fortunately, there are a few helpful guidelines you can follow to keep your community beautiful and inclusive this holiday season.
Know Your Authority Reach
The first step is to know exactly how much authority your HOA possesses when it comes to curtailing home decorations. This will depend on how your governing documents are written. HOAs almost always have "architectural control" which determines whether you can tell HOA members what to do with their homes and decor. Not all architectural control is equal, sometimes relating to decorations and sometimes not.
Get to know what you can control and what you can't. From there, consider the types of regulations you can put forth. Even if you have no authority to fine, you might simply post decoration guidelines to help homeowners design tactful, safe, and non-distracting holiday displays.
Set a Holiday Decor Schedule
Scheduling is a big part of HOA decoration control. Most HOAs limit holiday decorations to a certain period of time before and after each holiday. For the winter season, often the decoration period starts at Thanksgiving and extends into early January. Most homeowners are fine with a simple holiday decor schedule which gives them the freedom to decorate but encourages neighbors to take down their decorations after the holiday has passed.
Focus Guidelines on Disruption and Safety
The most important regulations you can make are those of safety and disruption. If a holiday display is creating a safety hazard or preventing the community from resting or relaxing enjoyably at home, you may have more authority to regulate and more responsibility to step in. Architectural control is also more likely to apply in cases where decorations are unsafe or profoundly distracting, so focus your policies in this direction.
- Bright Lights Near the Road
Blinding lights are never acceptable. Just as you'd step in if someone pointed a spotlight at the road that was blinding drivers, blinding holiday lights are also a poor choice. You may consider a lumen-limitation (light levels) and ban any lights that point directly at the road or obscure the view of drivers at night.
- Flashing or Distracting Lights
Flashing lights are another problem. Lights that flash brightly can shine through the windows of neighbors and prevent the community from getting good sleep. Lights that flash too erratically can actually cause seizures in those with certain medical conditions. Flashing lights may also serve as a hazard for drivers.
- Upsetting Decorations
Halloween is particularly well-known for upsetting decorations that might fool neighbors into thinking a crime has been committed. Advise your community to keep it PG-13. Anything too realistic and upsetting may need to be taken down to avoid unnecessary repeated calls to the police.
- Inflatable Decorations
By far, the single most popular way to control community holiday decor is to ban inflatable decorations. Inflatables tend to be the largest and least attractive of the home decor options because they are oversized and often of poor visual quality. Inflatable decorations are also potentially unsafe if they deflate or come unanchored. A ban on inflatable decorations is also universal, with no cultural or religious bias.
- Unanchored Decorations
All decorations must be properly staked into the ground or secured to the home structure to be considered safe. If a storm blows through, rooftop or oversized decorations can become more than a safety hazard. Require all decorations be safely secured and consider a limitation on decoration size.
Double-Check for Culturally Inclusive Rules
Finally, double-check all of your decoration policies are culturally inclusive. There are some arbitrary limitations that seem neutral on the surface until you take a second look. Make sure you are allowing all color-combinations and symbolism that may be meaningful to each family in the community. Also, make sure any safety-based policy isn't accidentally targeting one culture over another.
- Avoid Color Limitations
It may seem like a good idea to only allow red, green, and white decorations. But remember that Honnukah is blue and white, and Kwanza is red, green, and black. Homes going for a neutral gingerbread theme might choose a rainbow strand of lights. Color is not the issue. Often, when you think color is the issue, the problem is actually with the intensity (brightness) or flashing lights.
- There is No Approved List of Symbols or Content
You can't limit decorations to only depict Santa and reindeer or only depict 'neutral' themes because neutral themes are hard to pin down. In general, it's safer to let each family have their creche, yard dreidel, etc. You can limit gore on Halloween, but most holiday themes should be considered a personal family choice.
HOA Holiday Decoration Guides
If you have the authority to write rules about holiday home decor, make sure those rules are preserving the safety and peace of the neighborhood first and foremost. If you don't have authority, send out a flyer of guidelines anyway with advice on how to ensure each home's decorations are not a road hazard or an eyesore. Written courteously with safety as your primary point, most families will understand and make decoration plans accordingly.
Interested in learning more about the scope and reach of your communities rules and regulations?