The holidays are coming—and while property managers may enjoy the happy atmosphere that holiday decor creates, they don't enjoy the headaches caused by the inevitable disputes over which decor is acceptable, damage caused by fires, and the cleanup after the holidays are over. If you haven't already sent your tenants a reminder sheet of what is and isn't acceptable for decorations this holiday season, now is the time to do it. Here are some tips to follow.
1.) Don't use religion-specific holiday decorations in common areas.
Since you are responsible for the decorations in the common areas and outside the property, to avoid violations of the Fair Housing Act, stick to only non-religious seasonal decor. HUD has determined that Santa Claus and holiday trees are not considered religious in nature, so they can safely be used in your common areas as seasonal decor.
However, avoid putting up signs that seem to favor one religion over the other. For example, signs like "Jesus Is The Reason For The Season" and "Merry Christmas" violate the Fair Housing Act. That opens you up to complaints through Fair Housing and requests to provide equal representation of other religions. Stick to signs like "Happy Holidays. If you allow your residents to add decorations to common areas or the outside of the property, make sure that they understand that non-religious decor only is acceptable and that all others will be removed.
2.) Send out a safety-awareness flyer about decorations and holiday trees.
A full 11% of home decor-related fires start in December by candles alone. Send out a safety reminder that aims to educate your tenants about the dangers of lit candles—more than half of the home decoration fires that get started in December have to do with candles. Suggest that your tenants stick with battery-operated candles or at least make certain that candles stay as far away from any flammable objects as possible and are never left unattended.
Remind tenants that real trees are more likely to cause a fire than artificial ones and ask all your tenants to make sure that they check their tree's lights for wear-and-tear before using. Remind tenants that it's important to keep real trees watered and to discard them quickly after the holidays are over—before they can dry out and turn to kindling.
3. Take a proactive stance to avoid messes and clean-up disasters.
Unless you want to wake up to find your trash dumpsters overflowing with discarded boxes and an assortment of things that shouldn't be in there—like discarded electronics—be proactive and set up recycling bins in the common areas. Residents can dump their used wrapping paper and boxes (broken down, to save space) by a set deadline and you can handle taking it to the recycling center from there.
Compile a list of places where residents can drop off old electronics for recycling. If you suspect that you won't have much compliance, consider offering a separate recycling bin for discarded electronics and taking them into the recycling centers yourself, rather than worrying about them ending up in the trash bins, which could cause problems with your waste disposal company.
Similarly, set a deadline for tree removal: let residents know exactly what date live trees have to be removed from their residences and impose a fine for any that are left standing after that date. That will help cut down on the risk of seasonal fires.
Property management during the holidays is partly all about timing—you can't rely on residents to remember the rules from year to year, and you don't want to wait until the last minute to get your notices out there. Make sure that you get yours in the works so that residents have the information they need by the time the pumpkins disappear and the first sprigs of pine start to show up on doors.
For more information, talk to a professional like MacPherson's Property Management.