Every year, homeowners set up holiday decorations to spread joy and goodwill in their community. This season is no different. Homeowners are putting up wreaths, winding lights around trees, and shining dancing beams on their houses. In fact, the pandemic seems to be encouraging homeowners to go big this season. Sales of string lights went up significantly compared to the same measure taken a year ago. More homeowners are looking to join in the spirit of the season.
Unfortunately, even holiday decorations are subject to Sir Isaac Newton’s adage: what goes up, must come down. Each community association’s rules differ, but most HOA agreements include a timeline for holiday decorating. For example, HOA’s typically do not permit winter decorations before the fall and request that those decorations are taken down shortly after the New Year. Most guidelines forbid offensive content. Some restrict lighting and music to certain times of the day, and others restrict lighting to neutral colors like white or yellow. Still others have prohibitions on blow up or oversized decorations. At the end of the season, the question many homeowners ask is, “When do my decorations need to come down?”
Thoughts for Homeowners
Even though Santa enjoys giving gifts to children all around the world, he must return to the North Pole at some point. Most HOAs will provide a general rule that all holiday decorations must be removed by a specific date or within a specific time frame after the New Year. Some HOAs, however, require yard displays to be removed within 30 days, regardless of when they were erected. Though rules that require homeowners to remove decorations before the holiday season has passed are rare, this example demonstrates that each HOA operates independently when it comes to community aesthetics.
Go to the Source
Since each community association has its own rules, homeowners should find out removal requirements directly from the HOA. If a homeowner fails to remove holiday decorations on time, the HOA may dispense sanctions. Many HOAs will first send a warning letter outlining the violation and reiterating the rule. They may also provide proof with a photo of the violation. If these actions fail, HOAs may make a phone call or a stop at your home. Many HOAs also have the power to fine non-compliant homeowners. Though the fines are typically small, these fines are legally binding. It is often easier to follow the community covenants and restrictions than to deal with warnings, fines, and frustrated board members.
Thoughts for HOA Boards and Managers
As much as you want every homeowner to have Santa back in the attic on time, full compliance is unlikely. There are, however, a few suggestions that can improve the chances of your community returning to normal before spring.
Deliver Clear Rules
The HOA board’s best bet to avoid compliance issues is to provide clear and direct communication to homeowners. Be timely; send out the decoration removal policy when homeowners are putting up their decorations. Make the rules readily available on your website and in newsletters; don’t make homeowners go on a quest to find them. As deadlines approach, send out an additional, stand-alone notice via text or email. There is no need to inundate homeowners with communications, but three throughout the course of the season is appropriate.
Use Emotional Intelligence
As this article explains, making your homeowners feel appreciated rather than threatened can produce more favorable results. Emotional intelligence enables others to feel valued and understood, which may result in a greater likelihood of working toward a common goal.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you have a homeowner that hasn’t always been compliant with other seasonal rules. You’d like to send her a reminder about the upcoming decoration removal deadline. Instead of, “Holiday decorations MUST be taken down before January 15th or you will be FINED!” try, “Please let us know if you have any trouble removing holiday decorations by January 15th. Our staff would be glad to help you avoid incurring a penalty.” This approach demonstrates respect and provides a solution if the homeowner has a legitimate conflict with the rule.
Ensuring every member of the community adheres to the rules promotes values of fairness and equality. Homeowners dislike favoritism and will be more likely to adhere to a rule if they believe it is implemented fairly. Another best practice is to conduct regular home inspections. Announced inspections at each home at the end of the season may encourage procrastinators to get the job done.
Don’t let the rules get in the way of the holiday season. Decorations are a way for homeowners to spread joy to the community, and it’s something to be celebrated! Activities that engage neighbors with one another will help communities grow and function more smoothly. Don’t let the removal deadline turn you into a grinch!
Holiday decorations are a great tradition. By using the methods mentioned above, you can make sure that they are tucked away in a timely manner, ready to be used again next year!