It is that time of year again. The time when families (especially this year) need a little festive spirit in their lives. As such, many homeowners begin to decorate their homes for the holidays. These decorations can range from a wreath on the door to a Griswold style light show with a ten foot tall inflatable Santa in the front yard. Yikes! Needless to say our firm gets many questions about regulation of holiday and seasonal decorations, especially during the fall and winter months.
Can the Association Regulate Exterior Holiday and Seasonal Decorations?
As with most homeowner and condominium association questions, the answer to this question is that it depends on what the governing documents say. Almost always an association can regulate the display of decorations when they are located on the common area (think condo or often townhomes). However, in order to regulate the display of decorations on an owner’s property there must be some authority in the state statutes or the governing documents to do so. By far, the strongest authority for such regulation will come from the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (often called the “Declaration”) or the Master Deed for the community. This is the recorded document that can restrict the use of private property and is filed with the local Register of Deeds.
Sometimes we see provisions regarding holiday and seasonal decorations appear in the association’s Rules and Regulations or Architectural Guidelines. Without the appropriate authority in the Declaration or Master Deed, Rules and Regulations for most communities will generally govern common area only. Architectural Guidelines tend to be worded to regulate more permanent additions than a temporary display. Whether or not an association can regulate holiday and seasonal decorations through these documents depends heavily on the language used and on the underlying authority to use these documents as found in the Declaration.
There may also be relevant local ordinances that would limit what can be displayed.
Our firm’s attorneys review these documents regularly and can assist your association in determining if there is sufficient authority to keep decorations tasteful and in keeping with the overall character of the community.
Regulatory Language Matters: Tips and Tricks
Assuming an association has the ability to regulate holiday and seasonal decorations here are a few tips to consider:
- Be specific. Courts in North and South Carolina view any restrictions on owners’ abilities to use their property as they please in a negative light. This includes restrictive covenants. Vague governing document language is often construed against the association.
- Consider regulating size, number, and location of displays. For example, some associations limit the display to a front porch or prevent inflatables.
- Lighting is a big topic. Some communities restrict the lumens or wattage of the type of bulb that can be used. Other communities require white lights only. And many will require that the lights be turned off by a certain time of day or night.
- Avoid regulations that give favor to specific holidays. We are a melting pot nation with many different religions and beliefs. Restrictions that favor or prohibit displays by certain groups may violate state or federal law. This is a potential landmine that should always be avoided.
- Limit the duration of the display. In order to avoid having certain displays up all year long, consider putting time limits on the length of time that decorations may be displayed. For example, two weeks before and two weeks after any holiday.
If your association needs assistance in reviewing your governing documents and/or formulating restrictions regulating holiday and seasonal decorations, one of our community association attorneys at Law Firm Carolinas would be more than willing to provide guidance to help keep your community merry and bright … but not too bright!