Legal Tips – Holiday Decorations in the Common Elements (Condo Associations)

Many boards struggle with whether to put up holiday decorations in association lobby or common elements and the best practice for regulating those displays. Questions include:

  • Should we put up only secular decorations?
  • Is a Christmas tree OK?
  • Or a Menorah?
  • A Kwanzaa candle?
  • Or a nativity scene?

The answer to all of those questions is, yes, the board is permitted to put any of them up, but it must allow those unit owners requesting to display decorations particular to their religion to do so to avoid a discrimination lawsuit.

Section 18.4 of the Illinois Condominium Property Act (“ILCPA”) requires the board to maintain the common elements, which means it possesses the authority to decide which decorations, including religious symbols (if any), to put up within the common elements. If the board does decide to allow religious symbols (such as a Menorah or a Christmas tree), to avoid a discrimination claim, it should also allow any unit owner with a religious belief to include decorations from his/her organized religion in the common element lobby as well (within reason). Whether the decoration is “within reason” is determined on a case-by-case basis (i.e., some unit owner claiming to celebrate the birth of Satan on December 30th and asking to include his Satan watercolor painting near the front desk would not be reasonable).

In the end, while non-secular displays (Santa Clause, twinkle lights, etc.) or no display at all in the common elements may be the safest route involving least exposure to liability, many associations decide to include secular and non-secular decorations in common elements around the holidays, which is perfectly fine. So long as the board permits equal access for religious displays to all religious faiths, the association should be relatively safe in avoiding discrimination claims.