Deck the Halls, Mind the Rules: Navigating Association Decorations Restrictions with Holiday Cheer
‘Tis the season to stow away the skeletons, pumpkins, and witches, and usher in the festive spirit with twinkling lights, wreaths, and snowmen. As the allure of multicolored lights and decorations brightens the early darkness, residents of condominium associations need to align their festive expressions with community rules. For association boards and property managers, enforcing rules and regulations requires a delicate balance, especially during the holiday season.
Regardless of the time of year, communities often have established rules governing the appearance of individual units and common elements. Clear communication of these rules and timely reminders before the holiday season is crucial. Moreover, these rules, especially those pertaining to holiday decorations, should be actively enforced.
The authority of the board of directors to impose restrictions on the duration and placement of decorations was affirmed in the case of Pointe of the Woods Condominium Ass’n v Doel (unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued March 25, 2003, Docket No. 236617). The defendants appealed an order granting the plaintiff’s motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10) in a case involving alleged violations of a condominium’s by-laws. The plaintiff sought injunctive relief and money damages, claiming the defendants violated the by-laws by not timely removing holiday decorations, allowing personal property accumulation on their porch, and neglecting front yard maintenance. The trial court found the by-laws were correctly applied and granted summary disposition. On appeal, the defendants argued that the by-law restriction was improperly applied and violated the civil rights act by restricting property use based on religion.
The court, applying MCR 2.116(C)(10), emphasized that the motion tests the factual sufficiency of the complaint. Since the defendants failed to present factual evidence and did not raise a material fact issue regarding the by-law application, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff. The defendants’ claim that the by-law was applied retroactively was not argued and therefore not preserved for appeal. The court also rejected the defendants’ assertion that the by-law violated their rights under the civil rights act. The defendants did not identify themselves as members of a protected group and did not specify the holiday they intended to commemorate with their decorations. The court concluded that the neutral phrasing of the rule applied to all holidays, and the defendants failed to demonstrate that the plaintiff’s actions were based on religion, race, color, or national origin. Consequently, the trial court’s decision to grant summary disposition was deemed appropriate due to the defendants’ failure to show a protected interest.
Considering Safety Measures
Holiday decoration restrictions within the community association cover a comprehensive set of guidelines, including specifying the allowable duration of display, determining approved locations both within the community and individual units, identifying permissible types of decorations, excluding those that may pose a bother or hazard, and mandating neutrality in subject matter. These regulations are designed to ensure a harmonious and safe environment. Emphasizing the well-being of the community, decisions regarding decorations prioritize safety, health, and overall welfare. Recognizing the diverse preferences among residents, special attention is given to preventing displays that some may find unwelcoming, contributing to a more inclusive and enjoyable community atmosphere.
In the case of common elements, boards may opt to forego decorations entirely, considering potential Fair Housing Act implications and other anti-discrimination laws that could be triggered if residents perceive a preference for one religion over another.
The board’s approach to holiday decorations should mirror the careful scrutiny applied to other rules and regulations. Actions taken by the board should aim to enhance the community, considering existing rules and regulations, as well as federal, state, and local laws. It is imperative for boards to navigate this festive season with sensitivity, fostering a sense of community while upholding the principles of fairness and inclusivity.
Matthew D. Levine is an associate attorney and joined Hirzel Law in 2023. Mr. Levine graduated from James Madison College at Michigan State University in 1996 with a degree in International Relations. He obtained his Juris Doctorate at Wayne State University Law School in 2000, where he was a member of the International Moot Court Team. Upon graduation, Mr. Levine served as a law clerk for judges in the Oakland County Circuit Court, assisting the court with legal research and writing, trial preparation, and jury coordination. Since leaving the court, Mr. Levine has focused his practice on real property and consumer finance law with an emphasis on property rights, mortgage loans, regulatory compliance, eviction, and municipal ordinances. Mr. Levine can be reached at (248) 478-1800 or email@example.com.