Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas...

Once summer comes to a close, it seems like the remainder of the year just flies by - with one holiday rapidly followed by the next! While this is obviously a very fun and festive time of year - there are a few things to take into consideration when getting your home all decorated for the holidays.

With Halloween over and all the spooky decorations taken down (hopefully!) and stored away, we are now all focusing on holiday decor. If you live within an HOA or COA, there more than likely are covenants related to when you can put up holiday decorations, probably when the decorations must be taken down, and possibly even some limitations on the extent of your decorations. It's up to your Board to fairly enforce these covenants. It probably isn't the  intent of any board member to be viewed as being a 'Scrooge' when it comes to regulating holiday decorations - however, it is an important duty that these board members hold. After all, no one wants a neighbor who still has Christmas lights up and an inflatable Santa in their front yard come March!

From a Board perspective, the following are a few tips for retaining the holiday spirit while still maintaining your community standards:

1. Let reason rule - Reasonableness is almost always the key to successful community management. What is your community's goal when it comes to regulating holiday lights? If your association is considering adding restrictions - start with the goal and then work backward. This will help ensure that you don't enact too-strict restrictions, when more relaxed rules will get the job done. For example, if all you want to do is make sure that holiday lighting isn't over the top in your community, an outright ban is entirely too harsh. A more appropriate approach might be to focus your restrictions on the size and timing of holiday displays.
2. Reserve your rights - It's hard to define what's 'over-the-top' before a homeowner actually goes there. This obviously can be a problem when it comes to enforcement. As a result, it's smart to include the right for the HOA's architectural review committee to approve (or disapprove) holiday displays. That way, if an owner includes a feature that was never anticipated by the Board - but that's clearly not something your community approves of - you can ask for it to be modified or removed.
3. Consider what's too much - Generally, the most effective rules are those that specify when holiday decor can be put up and when it must be taken down. For example - decorations can be put up no sooner than 30 days before the holiday and removed no later than two weeks after the holiday. Rules can also include restrictions on the scope of the display (think Clark Griswold's house in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation). Some associations allow only a certain length of lights (ex: 100 total ft of lighting). Others limit the areas on which lights may be hung (ex: along the roof line, front door, front windows, and one tree in the front yard). An association may also want to consider roof-anchored display restrictions (ex: inflatable Santas and reindeer) and sound restrictions (an all-out ban or restricting to certain hours - to keep from disturbing neighbors during the night). 
4. Remember the spirit - Although it is important for your association to retain it's aesthetic integrity - its also just as important to act in the spirit of the season and choose your battles wisely. If a homeowner is an active and good neighbor throughout the entire year and revels in holiday decorating, you have to ask yourself whether or not the display is so outrageous that it's worth dampening that neighbor's year-round goodwill. In many cases, you'll find you're better off smiling and enjoying the display in the spirit in which it was intended.

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