Regulating Season’s Greetings in HOAs

By Amy Repke
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How soon is too soon to decorate for the holidays? When do I have to take my decorations down? Do I have to turn my lights off every night? How many decorations are too many? These are some of the questions common in HOAs this time of year.

When it comes to determining who gets to put up what—and when—at homeowners associations, things have the potential to get complicated, especially given the changing demographics of the United States. “You have to allow everybody or nobody. If you allow nobody, then you get resentment. So, there’s got to be some sort of balance, and that’s where your rules come in,” says Matt D. Ober, senior partner at Richardson Harman Ober in Pasadena, Calif., and a fellow in CAI’s College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL).

The most uniform way to regulate holiday displays, he says, is to grant owners a window of time to display decorations. His rule of thumb is two weeks before the holiday’s calendar date and two weeks after. “It cannot be permanent,” Ober says.

Ellen Hirsch de Haan, a partner at Wetherington Hamilton in Tampa, Fla., says boards also may wish to consider restricting the hours during which celebrants are allowed to turn on their holiday lights. Otherwise—in the case of shared balconies, for example—displays could become nuisances.

Along those lines, boards may choose to ban sounds, such as music or recordings of “Ho, ho, ho.” “There are noises that will drive you absolutely homicidal,” says de Haan, a CCAL fellow and CAI past president.

If you need help crafting a holiday decorating resolution or updating a current one, consider some of the following elements:

  • Timing. Holiday decorations may be displayed no more than X days before and X days after the actual holiday.
  • Common Areas. A committee will survey residents and determine what holidays will be represented on common areas. Decorations, such as small white lights on trees and menorahs, will be installed by the association. Santa figures, sleighs, reindeer and Nativity scenes are prohibited on common elements.
  • Individual Properties. Homeowners may install decorations on their properties. Holiday lighting may only be used from sunset to 10 p.m. and must not interfere with a neighbor’s use of his or her property. The decorations must not be offensive or obscene.
  • Enforcement. Items that do not conform to these guidelines will be removed by the association. explores questions and comments from community association members living in condominiums, homeowners associations, and housing cooperatives. We then assemble trusted experts to provide practical solutions to your most commonly asked, timely questions. We never use real names, but we always tackle real issues. Have a question or comment about your community association? Submit here for consideration:

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Amy Repke

Amy Repke, Vice President, Communications & Marketing. Amy brings more than 20 years of experience to CAI. Her communications career began in television news where she worked as a producer, writer, and assignment manager for local and network news channels. Amy has been nominated for four Washington Regional Emmy awards for writing and producing. Amy is a graduate of Old Dominion University and received a master's degree in Strategic Public Communications from American University.