The holiday season is well underway, with trees, wreaths, twinkle lights, and all the other festive trimmings coming out of storage and going up in lobbies, hallways, and other common areas. Many co-op and condo residents are also breaking out their own decorations, lighting their windows and fire escapes, hanging wreaths and garland on their apartment doors, and generally getting into the seasonal spirit.
While it’s rare for holiday decor - be it for Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, or otherwise - to be a source of strife, anyone who’s served on a board or managed a building knows that it only takes one inconsiderate neighbor - or one motivated complainer - to turn a nonissue into An Issue. For that reason, it’s worthwhile to consider your building’s policy around holiday and religious displays, if you have one, and putting a sensible one in place if you don’t.
Don’t Borrow Trouble
If your building already has rules around holiday displays, like any other house rule, it’s a good idea to revisit them regularly to make sure they still make sense. Building demographics change over time, and a rule drafted in the 1980s may need some updating. Technology changes too - motion-detecting animatronic reindeer and ultra-bright, multi-setting LED twinkle lights were not in the mix 30 years ago, so your documents may need to be revised to keep pace.
If your building’s house rules are silent on the matter of holiday decor, and your board is considering amending them to include it, it’s wise to check in with residents to see if they feel there’s any benefit in doing so. Nobody likes being micromanaged - especially when it comes to personal things like decorating, and especially when that decor is linked with religious observance. So if your constituency is ambivalent, it may be best to simply leave well enough alone. (On a side note: if you don't already do so, it’s very much worthwhile to poll your residents occasionally to determine which holidays they would like to see represented in your common areas.)
If, on the other hand, both board and residents support having rules around holiday and religious displays, there are a few things to keep in mind as you’re drafting your policy.
As with any new rule, a display policy must comport with not just your building’s governing documents, but with local, state, and federal laws. It’s always smart to consult with your managing agent and/or your legal advisor to vet the language of a rule and make sure it’s legal, fair, and enforceable.
The basic parameters a reasonable display policy might lay out include things like start and end dates when decorations can be up; set hours for when lighted displays can be on; size and sound restrictions, and specifics about permissible placement. If desired, the rules could also spell out that decorations must not interfere with neighbors’ use of their property, be offensive or obscene, or be hazardous in any way. Decoration rules should also state clearly that displays in violation will be removed by management or building staff.
Whether you’ve got a newly-drafted display rule, or are happy with the one you’ve had since the Carter administration, it’s a good idea to remind residents of it before the holiday cheer gets into full swing. An email, newsletter item, or flier under residents’ doors around Thanksgiving can all help get the word out, and mark the start of a bright, festive holiday season.
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