HOAs must maintain common areas
I received a violation letter from my HOA for installing holiday decorations at my townhome. Now they are telling me if I don’t take down the decorations they are going to fine me and have them removed. Can an HOA keep homeowners from installing holiday decorations and do they have the right to remove them from my property?
I have never heard of a homeowners association strictly forbidding holiday decorations. And although I would strongly discourage associations from adopting and implementing such a rule, I am unaware of any law that protects an owner’s right to install holiday decorations, including holiday lights. That said, in the interest of being rational and creating a strong, welcoming and friendly sense of community I would advise associations against implementing any such rules unreasonably disallowing owners’ rights to decorate for the holidays.
If you live in a single-family detached home, nearly all associations that I am aware of allow owners to display reasonable holiday decorations for a specific time period within the boundaries of their separate interest lot.
It is common, however for associations to clearly define the dates when it is appropriate to display holiday decorations, which typically ranges from late November to the middle of January, which I would consider reasonable and enforceable.
Condominium or townhome owners are more limited when it comes to their right to display holiday decorations. Because the association owns and maintains both the common area property throughout the community as well as the residential structures, homeowners are typically not permitted to install holiday decorations or lights on the outside of their individual unit.
Although this may seem unnecessarily restrictive, it is important for condominium and townhome owners to understand the justification behind the rule.
Associations are ultimately responsible for protecting the value and integrity of the common areas, including landscaping and structures.
As a result, it is imperative that associations adopt rules and policies that protect common area elements, which usually include rules against owners installing or affixing anything to the association’s common areas.
For instance, if owners were permitted to install holiday lights within the common area landscaping there is increased risk of damage to association plants, trees or groundcover.
Attaching holiday lights and decorations to the buildings or common area structures also increases risk of damage to the buildings.
A small nail or tack used to install holiday lights may seem harmless, but penetrating the structure could lead to moisture intrusion, which has the potential of significantly compromising the structure over time.
The only area outside of the owners unit that associations typically permit residents to display holiday decorations is within exclusive use patios, decks or landscape areas.
If an owner installs decorations on association common area property and refuses to remove them, the association has not only the right, but the obligation to have them removed.
Additionally, the association may then back charge the owner the cost of having the decorations removed. All owners within an association have an undivided interest in all common areas, so if an owner installs decorations on or within common areas, they are essentially decorating property that does not exclusively belong to them.
Given the associations responsibility to protect the value and integrity of the common areas for all association members, boards must sometimes make unpopular decisions that may seem unnecessary or irrational in order to uniformly protect the interests of all of the owners in the community, even if it is forbidding the installation of holiday lights and decorations on common area landscaping and residential structures. Bah humbug!