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December 09, 2004

Christmas Cheer

Condo boards set the limits on festive fun

L. Sara Bysterveld

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For some, Christmas is a joyous time of year, marked by festive wreaths, bright Christmas trees and playful, singing characters who troll a carol each time you set off their motion sensor. But for some condo dwellers, November marks the beginning of the nightmare.

Condo living can be a bit tricky when it comes to the festive season. You really need to know your by-laws and house rules, because they’re not always what you would think. When it comes to Christmas, it seems there is a fine line between pleasing the joyous revelers and not offending those who aren’t celebrating.

However, condo boards really are just trying to keep everyone happy, and therefore they don’t tend to get too Scrooge-like. While they must avoid offending anyone, they still want their residents to have a good time. In light of these demands, hallway displays or decorations on common property are usually limited. While some building associations find it appropriate, given their specific residents, to really go all out with the plastic candy cane displays in the lobby, most find that the diverse population lends itself more to keeping decorations within the actual suites.

A unique and humanitarian approach to the holidays, which some condo boards choose in lieu of decorations, is to adopt a charity and set up the display in their lobby. This is something all residents can take part in, which also embodies the true spirit of the season.

Lights or decorations in windows and on balconies are usually frowned upon in condominiums, but the board often makes an exception during the holiday season. Check your by-laws to see exactly how much revelry you may partake in. However, remember that unlike house-owners, you can’t “forget” to take down your lights until July. There is usually a restriction in condo by-laws stating that the lights must come down in January.

Hallway decorations, including on the outside of your door, might also be limited, but check with your board as some buildings allow residents to hang wreaths.

Whether or not your condo association throws a party may depend largely on the in-house amenities, as complexes with common areas or banquet rooms are more likely to put them to use.

“Townhouses tend to be a little more relaxed in their exterior decorating,” says Louise Challes, general manager of Condo Check and experienced condo manager. According to Challes, townhouse communities with a common meeting area are also more likely to decorate and throw a Christmas party. In apartment-style condos, it is rare for the board to throw a Christmas party for residents. Alternatively, the condo association may host a Christmas dinner in a restaurant.
Inside your home, you have the leniency to decorate as you wish. Christmas lights in windows are fine, although they will have to come down after the Christmas season just like the ones on the balcony.

One thing that is not okay is erecting a live Christmas tree. Just like hay bales at Stampede time, live trees in condos have been banned by the fire department because they are a fire hazard. But you can feel free to put up a fake tree in every room if you really want to.

While there are definitely certain issues that must be addressed, Challes estimates that about 75-80 per cent of condo communities celebrate the season in some way. “The board generally likes to create a sense of community,” she says.

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