The holidays just ended but it seems the question of holiday decorations lives on. Every year, holiday decorations seem to appear earlier and get more extravagant, and not just in the retail setting. While studies are showing that people who decorate for the holidays early are happier, what constitutes “too soon” or “too much” in a residential community can vary greatly depending upon individual homeowners’ nationalities, cultures, faiths, and even simply personal taste. Dealing with residents’ complaints about their neighbors’ decorations, while trying to maintain holiday cheer in the community, can leave an association feeling like it’s fighting a losing battle. With a bit of pre-planning, however, an association can take some of the stress out of the already hectic holiday season.
The most advisable way for an association to prevent holiday decorations and related residents’ complaints from getting out of hand is to adopt specific decorating rules and/or guidelines. These can address such details as how many days prior to a holiday that decorations may be installed; how many days after a holiday decorations must be removed; during what hours lighting displays may be lit; during what hours displays with sound may run; limiting the number of allowable displays; limiting the size of displays; and limiting the location of displays. Depending upon the neighborhood, prior to drafting and adopting such rules, the bBoard may wish to poll the residents to determine what restrictions they would favor most.
The question of whether to allow religious displays is another issue an association might consider before adopting holiday decorating rules or guidelines. Because associations are subject to the Fair Housing Act, however, they are prohibited from engaging in discriminatory housing practices on the basis of specific categories including religion. A rule prohibiting certain religious holiday displays or even all religious holiday displays could be challenged as being discriminatory on its face or as having a discriminatory effect against residents on the basis of religion. In practice, then, it is better to draft rules which focus on more general details such as the size, number, and location of displays as opposed to restricting the particular content of the displays themselves.
Before adopting any rules or guidelines restricting decorations, an association will need to confirm that it actually possesses such rule-making authority and determine whether or not the process of owner approval will also be required. It will also want to adopt such rules well before the holidays to give owners plenty of advance warning of the new restrictions. Should an association decide that holiday decoration rules or guidelines are appropriate for its community, it is also advisable that it consult with its attorney to discuss the precise wording of the rules, their proper adoption, and whether recording of the rules will be required under chapter 720, Florida Statutes.