2019 has flown by and the holiday season is almost here again. For many communities, the holiday decorations are being pulled out and set up. Some may be planning a variety of holiday celebrations, while others could be anticipating large outside crowds coming into the neighborhood to view the variety of intricate yard displays. And everyone needs to be prepared for the array of deed restriction violations that are likely to occur during the holiday season and know the best course of action to take for them. Is your community prepared for every question, issue, problem or safety concern that could arise over the next couple of months? If you are unsure, or just need a refresher, follow our five tips for this holiday season.
- Do Associations Have the Right Insurance Policy/Policies, and Are They Up to Date?
By now, we’ve all seen the series of insurance commercials touting that “we’ve seen it and covered it” for the variety of crazy, far-fetched claims and accidents that can happen. As inconceivable as it might be for something to go wrong, your association should be prepared for everything. Beginning with your choice of vendors and the initial set up of decorations, you should ensure all vendors have the correct insurance policies in the event of an accident. When choosing a vendor make sure to request a certificate of insurance is provided to you. Items you will want to verify once the certificate is received; waiver of subrogation, status of primary coverage for all policies, notice of cancellation with a 30 day notice on all policies, confirm the association and developer are shown as additional insureds and last confirm all deductibles and indemnity will be paid by the vendor.
- Should Associations Regulate Homeowner Displays?
This question can become a controversial topic every year for associations, but the short answer is yes, some regulation is needed. While the board does not want to be seen as a bunch of Scrooges, no one wants to have the house next to a Clark Griswold with lights you can see from space, or have Santa and his reindeer live on the roof nine months out of the year, so it can be helpful to have guidelines to prevent excessive displays and displays that remain up until September of the next year. The guidelines will vary from association to association and residents will forget what they are throughout the year. There will also be new residents that have moved into the community who might be used to a different set of guidelines, so it can be helpful for everyone for the association to remind residents of the guidelines. Associations should advise residents of the key dates for set up and take down of displays, post the full guidelines in the association’s newsletter and on the association’s website for residents to use as a resource as they are planning their displays.
An area that an association should be cautious with regulating is religious displays. Legislatures, courts and residents across the country have been outspoken in their opinions on associations and religious displays during the holiday season. Religious displays are referenced in §202.018 of the Texas Property Code. Generally speaking, an association may not enforce or adopt a restrictive covenant that prohibits a property owner or resident form displaying or affixing on the entry to the residence one or more religious items. That being said, an association can regulate religious items that: threaten public health or safety, violates a law, contains offensive language/display, etc. Associations are encouraged to contact their legal counsel in the event an issue with a religious display arises.
- How Do Associations Regulate Deed Restrictions During the Holidays?
Similar to what we mentioned above with the holiday displays, you should offer a friendly reminder to residents of the deed restrictions they need to abide by, during and after the holiday season, so they do not receive a deed restriction enforcement letter for the new trampoline in the backyard the kids got for Christmas that does not comply with the deed restrictions. Or to prevent the need for a cease and desist letter for the blowout New Year’s party and massive fireworks show the board has been made aware of. Although the holidays are a time for family, friends and fun…deed restriction enforcement does not go on hiatus simply as a result of the holidays. Associations need to be diligent and consistent with deed restriction enforcement regardless of the time of year.
- How Can Associations Effectively Control Crowds During the Holidays?
Unless your association is in a gated community, or you are a townhome or condominium association with a limited number of visitor parking spots, it is almost impossible to prevent the public from driving through your community to look at the holiday displays homeowners have set up throughout the community. If you anticipate large numbers of people coming into the community, you might consider hiring outside security to assist with traffic control to help move cars throughout major intersections in the community. Associations may also consider using the parking lots of their common areas as staging locations and work with the residents to provide tours of the community holiday displays to help alleviate traffic jams throughout the community.
- What Can Associations Do to Prevent Package Theft and Other Security Issues?
With the rise of online shopping, more and more packages are being left on the doorsteps of homes when drivers are unable to deliver to the homeowner. Unfortunately, sometimes following the delivery drivers are drivers of a different kind – thieves looking to be the ultimate grinches during the holiday season and steal the packages the delivery drivers leave behind. Multiple instances of this can cause controversy throughout the neighborhood with homeowners expressing their angst and concern on Facebook and Nextdoor asking the board to do something to prevent the thefts. For some associations, there is not a lot that can be done to prevent the petty package theft. Smaller single-family and townhome associations and condominium associations may have the resources and available space to offer a central drop-off location in the community, but for larger communities the logistics can become too much of a burden on the association’s staff to manage. To combat this issue, many of the parcel delivery services have set up off-site locations for package delivery. For example, UPS has created Access Points by partnering with Michaels and CVS to accept packages. It can be helpful for the community for the association to provide a list of the nearby delivery service drop-off and pick-up locations.
Other routes associations can look to take is working with local law enforcement to increase patrols or, if the association has the resources, hire a third-party security service to patrol the neighborhood throughout the holidays.
The holidays will a busy and hopefully fun time for all. While associations can feel the stress the added burden of extra people in the community and more opportunities for violations, we hope these tips provide an ease to that burden and stress. As always, if you have any legal questions regarding what your association needs to be doing to prepare for the holiday season, please consult with your attorney so you are prepared for whatever may arise throughout the holiday season.