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Got your glowing lamps ready for this year’s Diwali celebration in mid-November?

You may not, but your Hindu neighbor may be good to go.  And if he or she tolerates your Diwali-Festivalblinking Christmas lights and Santa figurines, you should be prepared to return the favor.

So say community association lawyers who help clients navigate the sometimes tricky landscape of holiday decorations.  When it comes to determining who gets to put up what – and when – at community associations, things have the potential to get complicated, especially given the changing demographics of the United States.

“You have to allow everybody or nobody.  If you allow nobody, then you get resentment.  So, there’s got to be some sort of balance, and that’s where your rules come in,” says Matt D. Ober, senior partner at Richardson Harman Ober in Pasadena, Calif., and a fellow in CAI’s College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL).

The most uniform way to regulate holiday displays, he says, is to grant owners a window of time to display decorations.  His rule of thumb is two weeks before the holiday’s calendar date and two weeks after.

“It cannot be permanent,” Ober says.

Ellen Hirsch de Haan, a partner at Wetherington Hamilton in Tampa, Fla., says boards also may wish to consider restricting the hours during which celebrants are allowed to turn on their holiday lights.  Otherwise – in the case of shared balconies, for example – displays could become nuisances.  Along those lines, boards may choose to ban sounds, such as music or recordings of “Ho, ho, ho.”

“There are noises that will drive you absolutely homicidal,” says de Haan, a CCAL fellow and CAI past president.

Some associations have drawn the line at “sukkahs,” the rustic dwellings some devout Jews build outside to mark the seven-day festival of Sukkot.  The holiday period commemorates the time the Hebrews spent in the desert after being released from Egypt.  Boards tend to frown on the structures, especially when they’re built on limited common elements, such as balconies.

“The funny thing is, since it’s only seven days, by the time the association gets around to enforcing it, it’s usually down,” Ober says.  “The question is: What happens when they do it next year?”

by Mike Ramsey

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