Condo Rules and Regulations, HOAs, and Your Holiday Displays

Check your condo rules before you put up that menorah or Santa decoration, or you might find yourself taking your holiday decorations down a lot sooner than you planned.

Check your condo or home owners association's rules before putting up any outdoor holiday decorations. Image: Westend61/Getty Images

If you’re one of the 62 million Americans living in condo and homeowners associations (HOAs), you don’t get to take a holiday break from condo rules. Humbug, you say? Well…

“A hallmark of a shared ownership community is that you give up some of your rights for the good of the community. If there are restrictions involving holiday decorations, including lights and signage, you’re generally bound by them,” says Ryan Poliakoff, co-author of New Neighborhoods: The Consumer’s Guide to Condominium, Co-Op and HOA Living. After all, one person’s beautiful display is another’s junk.

I want to flout condo rules and put up holiday decorations despite an HOA rule banning them. What’s going to happen to me?

  • Option 1: Nothing may happen if the HOA rules aren’t enforced.
  • Option 2: You might get a letter asking you to take down your decor.
  • Option 3: You might get fined for breaking condo rules.

Constructive ways to balance your need to deck the halls with condo rules that ban decorations:

Talk to your neighbors. If it’s your first holiday in your new home, check your association’s rules and regulations to find out what’s really allowed. Chat with the neighbors, too. Condos that ban lights and signage most of the year may be lenient about decorations during the holiday season. “But do understand these rules and regulations are enforceable by boards of corporations that are created contractually,” Poliakoff says.

Take your holiday case to the board.Call the president and ask if you can speak at the next meeting. Show up with a short written proposal to modify the HOA rules to allow specific kinds of decorations, like lights on balconies or door wreaths.

“Don’t criticize or start calling anyone names. Suggest to your board they amend their rules to allow for holiday decorations within limits,” Poliakoff says. Offer to write an email or letter outlining a holiday decorating exception that runs during a set period like Dec. 15 to Jan. 1.

Check state laws on condo rules. Got no satisfaction from your trip to the condo board? You might be able to appeal to a higher authority. Some states have a large body of home owners association laws that may override HOA rules in certain instances, while other states have few home owners association laws.

“There are laws in some states that do allow the display of items such as religious items or wreaths,” Poliakoff says.

If you can argue state law, sharing a copy of the law with the condo rule-makers may get them to change their minds about holiday decorations. If it doesn’t, you can consult a lawyer to find out about how much it will cost to sue your condo board to force it to follow state laws.

Bottom line: Living in a shared association is about give and take. And you’re always free to decorate your home’s interior as you like.