We’re in the midst of the Christmas holiday season and people are getting in the festive mood! Before putting up any holiday decorations on the exterior of their units, condo residents should be checking their condo documents to see if there are any restrictions on doing so. In most cases the unit entrance doors, exterior windows and balconies form part of the condominium common elements. In some townhouse condominiums the verandas and front lawns form part of the common elements. Most condominiums have rules governing the use of the common elements. Some residents, particularly those who are new to condominium living, are surprised to learn that there may be rules which prohibit or restrict exterior holiday decorations. In some cases this stems from the residents not understanding what forms part of their unit and what is part of the common elements. Many erroneously assume that the balcony and the unit entrance door are part of the unit and that they are free to do as they wish.

Rules relating to holiday decorations may contain provisions such as the following:

  • A complete prohibition on installing any decorations on the exterior of the unit. Some condo corporations want to maintain a uniform sense of decorum on the exterior of the condominium rather than allowing individual residents to put up whatever type of decorations they want. What may be charming to one person may be tacky and tasteless to others.
  • Where exterior decorations are permitted, the period in which decorations are permitted to be displayed, so that they are not still up long after the holiday has passed.
  • All outdoor lighting must be CSA-approved lights that are specifically approved for outdoor use.
  • A prohibition on affixing wreaths and other decorations on the outside of unit doors fronting on interior corridors. These wreaths are frequently made with materials that would fill the condo corridor with toxic gases in the event of a fire and impede those using the corridor as an escape route.
  • A prohibition on real Christmas trees. Dried out trees not only pose a fire risk, but the common elements can be littered with needles as when trees are taken in and out of the building.

It’s better to check the condo documents before installing any outdoor decorations than to respond to a demand from the corporation to remove non-compliant decorations. As most Christmas holiday decorations are secular in nature, claims that the rules infringe on residents’ freedom of religion will most likely fail.