Tips for 3 HOA Holiday Headaches: Lights, Theft, and Parking

Lights are going up, packages are arriving in droves, and families are coming to visit. The holiday season is here, and everyone wants to celebrate. But if that celebration includes a towering inflatable Santa or a YouTube-worthy light show, what should the HOA do?

Packaged with the joy of the holidays come several headaches for HOA boards. Complaints about lights and decorations, stolen packages, and increased traffic are some of the most common. Read on for a few ways that boards and neighbors can reduce those problems.

Lights and Holiday Displays

While some associations may wish to ban holiday displays altogether (no lights, no problems, right?) we advise against the nuclear option. Holiday lights are a tradition that brings a little warmth into your community. Instead, boards can develop appropriate guidelines for holiday displays. While the guidelines should change depending on the type of development (e.g. condominiums, single family homes), they should address the following elements:

  • Location and character of display. Will the HOA allow lights on balconies, fences, or in windows? How should those lights be attached to prevent damage? What about light shows that incorporate music or sound? Should rooftop or other common area displays be prohibited? (In a condominium, they should.) Will the HOA restrict the “size” of the display by limiting square footage or the length of light strings?
  • Timing. During what hours can the display be illuminated? For units in tight quarters, bright displays late at night may trigger complaints. Consider asking residents to turn off their lights by 9pm.
  • Duration. Lights are beautiful in December but not on Easter. Choose dates (e.g. Thanksgiving through January 15th) during which holiday displays are allowed.

Remember, just because the board can adopt a restriction doesn’t mean it should. While the HOA ought to protect the property and prevent a disruptive nuisance, no board wants to appear on the 10 o’clock News as the Christmas-hating HOA. Find a happy medium.

Packages & Security

Thieves look forward to Christmas almost as much as kids. Unattended packages on doorsteps are an irresistible temptation, and most associations struggle with crime during the holidays. While HOAs should not accept any responsibility for delivered packages, they can offer tips to owners to help reduce crime in the community:

  • Deliver to work/friend/neighbor. Encourage owners to use different delivery options during the high-crime season. Have packages delivered where someone can accept them, or require a signature.
  • Leave a note. FedEx and UPS drivers will often honor requests to place packages behind a gate, shrub, or other location; residents should contact their carrier. In some cases, a note on the door is enough.
  • Track packages. Package tracking has come a long way, and owners can often receive a text message when their package is delivered.

Standard security options such as cameras and patrols may help, but they may not. Some HOA attorneys recommend against cameras (especially "dummy" cameras) for reasons of liability, and frequent security patrols can be very expensive. If your community has a serious crime problem that goes beyond the opportunistic package thief, consider a security assessment.

Strong communities can reduce crime. Owners who know their neighbors are more likely to report suspicious behavior. Although midway through the holidays may be too late, boards should try community-building events throughout the year. At minimum, make sure that everyone has the appropriate police phone number.

Traffic

Parking can feel like a blood sport during the holidays. In cramped associations, anyone who can’t park their sleigh on the roof may be tempted to double park or slip into a guest spot. Unless your association has a system of parking passes, guest tags, and dedicated patrols, parking enforcement will be a bear.

Take the time to remind residents about the parking rules, and be more vigilant about enforcement. Make sure that everyone knows:

  • Where owners must park. Many associations require that one car be parked in a garage or assigned spot.
  • Where guests can park. Be explicit, and be sure that residents are familiar with parking options or restrictions in surrounding neighborhoods.
  • Time limits. Let everyone know how long an owner or guest may park in a particular area before being cited or towed.

In select cases, associations may be able to adopt “Holiday Parking Rules” to ease congestion. For example, associations that prohibit parking in driveways might make an exception between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Whatever the rules, boards should take care to make sure the community’s parking policies and signage are up to date in case they need to tow or issue a fine.

Enjoy the Holidays

While we hope that these tips will make the holidays run more smoothly for your association right now, they may not. And that's ok! Take a deep breath (and a few notes), and work on updating the HOA policies for 2016. No rule will please everyone, but with enough time and input from the community, the HOA can find a balance that works. For now, sit back and don't forget to enjoy the season.

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