HOA Educational Articles for Members
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It’s already early October, which means that Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza and New Years are fast approaching. With some of these holidays comes a real desire by residents in community associations to celebrate by decorating their homes.
Holiday decorating can be a great way to build community spirit in associations or can be a gut-wrenching experience. While there is no way to guarantee that the holiday season will be a festive and controversy-free time in your communities, here are some general principles that community associations should keep in mind when addressing covenants, rules and enforcement relating to holiday decorating:
- Be Reasonable and Don’t Rain on the Parade of Homeowners Unless Absolutely Necessary. Unless your governing documents require it and there’s a compelling reason to do so, do not prohibit residents from decorating the exteriors of their homes for the holidays. While it’s true that not everyone has exquisite taste in decorating, reasonable rules can make even the most gauche decorations palatable for a short period of time. If your association does ban holiday decorations, it’s essential that all decorative displays be prohibited. You should not permit holiday decorations for one holiday and prohibit them for others.
- Set Reasonable Timeframes for Holiday Displays to be in Place. There’s nothing aesthetically tackier than a dead holiday wreath hanging on a door in the middle of the summer or a rotten pumpkin frozen to a front door step in the middle of the winter. As a result, it’s both reasonable and appropriate for associations to have rules in place that regulate the time prior to holidays that decorations can be placed on or around the exteriors of homes and the time after the holidays that the decorations must be removed. Again, it’s important to be reasonable with these timeframes.
- Set Reasonable Timeframes for Holiday Displays that Include Illumination. It’s not uncommon these days to see holiday lights displayed for the 4th of July, Halloween, Christmas, New Years and other holidays too. However, depending upon the type of the community and the lights being displayed, it may be reasonable for your association to create rules that regulate the time of day lighted decorations may be illuminated so as to not create an unreasonable nuisance for neighbors. Regulations relating to safety concerns connected to displays that include illumination may also be reasonable.
- It’s Reasonable to Prohibit Homeowners from Placing or Affixing Decorations to General Common Elements. While it’s not politically advisable to prohibit residents from decorating their own homes or placing decorations on limited common elements, it’s perfectly acceptable to ban residents from decorating general common elements without association approval and doing anything that could potentially damage the common elements. It’s also acceptable to limit homeowners from affixing items on limited common elements that could be damaging if the association is responsible for maintenance or repair of the limited common elements.
- Don’t Ask your Architectural Review Committee to Be Martha Stewart. Don’t require homeowners in your association to apply for Architectural Review Committee (“ARC”) approval to display holiday decorations and don’t put the ARC in the position of making determinations on what are tasteful holiday decorations and whether homeowner will be permitted to display them. This is a no-win situation for everyone involved and is guaranteed to create controversy.
If your association has covenants and rules in place addressing holiday decorations that may no longer fit the dynamics of your association, it’s time to start thinking about whether they need to be changed, to begin a dialogue with homeowners to determine what changes they would like to see made and to investigate the steps you association needs to take to amend your covenants and revise rules.
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Community spirit means pride in a community. Building community spirit creates an emotional equity allowing residents to have an invested interest in their community. The key to having a spirited community doesn’t rest in the size or the wealth of the association, but rather the enthusiasm and energy of the residents. Community associations throughout the country rely on resident volunteers who exhibit these traits to bring their community together.
One of the easiest ways to build community spirit is by welcoming new members of the community. Some communities have established a “Welcoming Committee” with volunteers making the initial contact to the new owners. By welcoming new owners to the community, not only does this exhibit the community spirit, it is also an opportunity to invite them to various events being held within the community and it also provides them with a contact point in case they have any questions.
There are many different ways to promote community spirit by engaging residents in various activities throughout the community. Many associations have implemented community traditions revolving around major seasonal events, giving residents something to look forward to each year. Examples of these events include holding an annual 4th of July party or summer picnic at the community swimming pool or park. A good way to incorporate all members is by setting up a pot-luck, with the association providing the paper goods and the residents providing the food and beverages. Communities may set up various activities such as horseshoes, cards, or volleyball giving all the residents an opportunity to meet their neighbors within their community.
Another idea is an Earth Day/Arbor Day celebration which allows residents to join together to beautify their community. During these celebrations, associations should solicit their landscape company or local tree company to allow residents to purchase trees and shrubs at a discounted price. Communities can bring in dumpsters and place them in a central location and ask volunteers to help clean up not only their property but the common areas as well. During these celebrations invite the neighborhood children to help plant new trees and shrubs on the common grounds thus allowing the children to play a part of the community.
Community spirit is also furthered by recognizing all volunteers within the community and recognizing owner accomplishments. The community newsletter or website is an excellent vehicle to recognize different accomplishments or achievements made by community members. It is also important for community associations to recognize their volunteers, giving these individuals the recognition they deserve.
Additional activities that have been successful in different communities include : creating a neighborhood assistance program, such as a babysitting club, where residents offer to provide assistance to others within their community;
- creating programs that partner their association with a local charity or school that allows the residents to give back to their immediate community
- set up different clubs, for example a poker club, giving all the owners an opportunity to join and allows them to get to know their neighbors.
Setting up various events through out the year to bring the community together provides residents with opportunities to become involved in their community. These events help build pride within each community giving owners a place they are happy to come home to.
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Welcome to the new forum where the RRRHOA will be posting or linking to articles that we feel would be of interest to our members regarding HOA legal opinions, operations, policies and regulations. If you have an article that you feel would provide the RRHOA members with educational opportunities regarding HOAs, please email the RRRHOA board with the article or link.