One of my five-year-old daughter’s favorite YouTube clips involves an elaborately decorated house, whose thousands of colored Christmas lights were programmed to flicker, strobe, wave, and blink to the tune of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s hard-rock holiday anthem “Wizards in Winter.” (The guy’s electric bill must have been through the well-lighted roof that December).
One of the benefits of living in a condominium is that your neighbor is not allowed to do to his unit what the guy in that video did to his. This is also, as the owner of the Trans-Siberian house would argue, one of the drawbacks. Of course, co-ops and condos in the five boroughs tend not to be detached dwellings; there are only so many lights an apartment owner can physically put in his windows. Living in a community means abiding by the rules of that community, and when the holidays roll around, decorations can become an issue—even in an apartment building in New York.
There are compelling arguments for and against allowing holiday decorations of any kind. Those against are straightforward: buildings don’t want to risk having to take legal action because a rogue unit owner wants to make a viral YouTube holiday video.
“The argument against is the issue on non-conformity, a reduction in perceived property value because of the haphazard nature of the displays,” explains David Berkey, managing partner of the Manhattan-based law firm of Gallet Dreyer & Berkey. ““Boards are concerned that the building will have a non-uniform look. Haphazard decorations make the building look less attractive than it otherwise would be. That’s why rules are put in place.”
Holiday decorations, as anyone who’s ever been to Wal-Mart well knows, can range in taste from the subdued and elegant to the over-the-top and wacky. Some boards want to nip in the bud any impulse to uglify their buildings, and they enact strict anti-decoration rules: nothing on the door, nothing in the windows.