December is the month of festivities and traditions. Various holidays such as Kwanzaa, Chanukah and Christmas all fall within December and residents in New York love decorating their homes to celebrate the holidays. However, what are the decorating do’s and don’ts and how can residence make sure their holiday décor is not hazardous?
As co-op and condo residents have a mixture of backgrounds, the board must ensure it establishes consistent, fair and safe practices. There needs to be a balance between celebrating the holidays and ensuring decorations do not offend any residents or become a nuisance or hazard. Although most co-ops and condos permit residents to celebrate the holidays by decorating their doors, some by-laws do prohibit decorating the outside of your apartment along with the common areas. Buildings typically allow residents to hang wreaths, dreidels and signs on their doors. As long as the board treats all residents’ religions and traditions equally, there is unlikely to be a problem, but be sure to check your building’s individual by-laws. Some residents may be permitted to hang decorations on their doors or terraces pending board approval. What about religious decorations on residents’ front doors? Many Jewish households place mezuzahs on their front doors as a sign of faith and not decoration. Courts have held that displaying mezuzahs is protected under the first amendment, regardless if a building does not permit any type of decorations.
For buildings that permit holiday décor in common areas, the rules should again be fair and inclusive of all faiths. To avoid tension, co-op and condo boards can ask interested residents to form a diverse committee to decorate and raise funding. Why shouldn’t a board use common funds for the holidays? Not all residents will want their monthly fees allocated to holiday decorations, particularly when they symbolize various religions. Independently raising funds will create greater transparency and avoid potential conflicts.
During the holidays residents tend to leave their tree lights on and keep the candles burning. To avoid holiday disasters it is important to follow basic safety procedures to prevent fires. The National Fire Prevention Agency (NFPA) reports that from 2011 to 2015 fire departments responded to around 200 fires starting from Christmas trees alone. Electrical issues caused 40% of the fires, candles 26%, and 24% of the trees were intentionally set on fire. During the same time period, fire departments responded to around 840 fires that were caused by other holiday decorations.
For residents with real trees, make sure they are regularly watered and not near a radiator. For residents who opt for fake trees, it is important they are fire retardant. As a basic guideline, residents should not use real candles on trees and should always be home when the tree lights are on. Decorations with lights and candles in common areas of co-ops and condos should be regularly monitored and not left on throughout the night.
National Fire Protection Association. “Winter Holiday Fires by the Numbers.” Available at: http://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/By-topic/Seasonal-fires/Winter-holiday-safety/Holiday-fires-by-the-numbers. Accessed on Dec. 14, 2017.