Many people love this time of year. The beautiful fall colours, the delicious meals, and the countless holiday gatherings. Many people dread this time of year. The temperatures drop, the days grow shorter, and the holiday shopping madness begins. Given the extreme feelings people can have to this time of year, it should be no shock to anyone that holiday decorations can be a contentious issue in condominiums.
Some people like the added cheer that holiday decorations can bring to a home. Others want a uniform appearance throughout the condominium. No matter where one falls on the spectrum, most agree that they don’t want to live next to the house that you can see from an airplane. But where do you draw the line? How do you craft a rule that allows for some decorations, but not too many? Here are some things to consider when trying to draft a rule that works in your condominium.
Include the Owners
Getting feedback from the owners before enacting a new rule is usually a good idea, especially where the rule has to do with the appearance of the condominium as opposed to behaviour that may disturb the other owners or cause damage to the property. It does not have to be a formal meeting or notice. It can be as simple as discussing it at the AGM or soliciting comments in the newsletter. If you find out that 90% of the owners are in favour of decorations, don’t pass a rule prohibiting them. Instead, focus on addressing any concerns raised by the use of decorations.
Protect the Property
One of the concerns raised about the use of decorations in condominiums is usually the potential damage to the property that might occur if an owner affixes an item to the common elements. This can normally be addressed within the rule itself by prohibiting decorations that require holes to be drilled and requiring the use of other adhesives that can be easily removed without causing damage. In extreme cases, a condominium may want to consider section 98 of the Act, which requires an owner to get board approval prior to making any “additions, alterations or improvements” to the common elements.
Another concern is often about safety. To ensure people are not struck by falling decorations many high-rise condominiums prohibit decorations on the balconies. Others require them to be affixed to the inside of the balcony or within the unit. Some prohibit decorations that may be offensive or cause distress (which is less likely to be an issue with holiday decorations than with Halloween decorations). Some condominiums prohibit live trees from being used within the units to reduce the likelihood of fires.
Consider the Costs
Are the units sub-metered? If not, the electricity used by the decorations will be a common expense. Some condominiums limit the amount of time that lights may be used. For instance, a rule might require an owner to turn lights off at 10 or 11 p.m. each night and may limit the number of days or weeks that lights may be used. A rule might require the use of LED or solar-powered lights as a way of conserving electricity.
Be Mindful of Differences
While much of the focus in the media this time of year is on Christmas, there are many people who do not celebrate it. Be mindful of other religions and beliefs when drafting your rules. Do not refer to them as “Christmas Decorations”. Try “Holiday” or “Seasonal” instead. Also, the rules and any enforcement of them should be equally applied to all owners. One owner should not be permitted to hang Christmas lights while another is prohibiting from hanging Hanukkah lights.
Review the Rules
Finally, as with any rule, it is wise to review the rules every few years to make sure they are still a proper fit for the condominium. People change. Tastes change. Rules need to change to keep up.