Quorum October 2021

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Naughty or Nice? Holiday Guidelines to List and Check Twice By Daniel C. Heaton, Esq. 4. PAY ATTENTION TO FLASHING LIGHTS ‘Tis the season. For many homeowners, this time of year is eagerly anticipated and cherished. For some board members and association managers, it may instead trigger a sense of dread. Residents often have passionate feelings about their holiday traditions and dislike being told that their favorite decorations are not permitted. Following are a few tips for creating a holiday decorations policy to help ease this stress and keep the holiday spirit alive.


"Remember that everyone

While the primary function of the association is to maintain the community and improve property values, the spirit of the holidays should be kept in mind. Don’t enact strict restrictions when less will suffice. Adopting a decorations policy should not be a complicated or controversial process. Where possible, frame the new rules in encouraging and proactive tones, addressing not what the residents cannot do, but instead what they can: “Residents may display holiday lights and décor from 30 days prior to the holiday until 2 weeks after.”

involving the community in

2. KNOW THE REACH OF YOUR AUTHORITY The regulations that can be included in your policy will depend on how your governing documents are written. Generally, the association will have “architectural control,” that will enable the board to enact rules pertaining to aesthetics in the community. 36

The reach of the association’s authority may be different in a condominium project than in a planned development. Is an owner planning to string holiday lights on her own separate interest or is the plan to hammer small nails into the common area of a condominium? Associations should work closely with legal counsel to set decoration guidelines based on the specific terms of the governing documents.

Quorum October, 2021

celebrates differently. By creating a holiday decorations policy comprised of reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, the board can set clear expectations and ensure that community standards are maintained." 3. INVOLVE THE WHOLE COMMUNITY Association rules should be crafted in advance and not merely reactionary. Engage members in a conversation on whether the community would benefit from a policy for holiday decorations. Poll the owners on specific issues to learn of the community’s overall preference. Consult with your association manager and legal counsel, as they may know of other communities with similar issues.

While associations can regulate the display of holiday decorations, boards must act carefully to avoid claims of discrimination. As housing providers, community associations are prohibited from engaging in discriminatory housing practices on the basis of any protected class, including religion. In addition to Federal and California Fair Housing laws, in July 2019, California adopted SB 652, which added Civil Code section 4706 to the Davis-Stirling Act. This section prohibits an association from limiting the display of “religious items on the entry door or entry door frame” as long as it reflects “sincerely held religious beliefs.” This provision invalidates any potential policy that would attempt to require owners to take down religious items such as a mezuzah or cross. As a result, boards should pay close attention to these possible areas of trouble. Refrain from naming any specific holidays in your rules. Do not include pre-approved (or prohibited) lists of symbols or content. Colors may even be closely tied to certain holiday or religious views to the exclusion of others, so do not attempt to adopt specific holiday color schemes. Ensure that guidelines are applied in an unbiased matter and remain openminded in any enforcement actions. Given the heavy penalties for Fair Housing disputes, be quick to dismiss potential violations that arise out of misunderstandings involving religious holidays, particularly those that are not “traditional.”