Holiday Decorations May Raise Fair Housing Issues

Management should consider the fair housing issues involved with religious holidays.

It's that most wonderful time of the year! Many of our readers have inquired into the legality of holiday decorations. We've all read about the city governments that have been challenged in court because life-sized nativity scenes were displayed in public parks. In housing facilities the concern is that if a holiday such as Christmas is celebrated with religiously oriented decorations, the decorations may communicate a preference for Christian residents to any applicants who visit the facility. We know of no fair housing law suits based on holiday decorations, but we recommend prudence when creating and placing decorations in your housing facility. The overall policy should be to insure that whatever decorations are used as inclusive as possible of all persons in the community. Combining sensitivity and common sense with an inclusive spirit, we are confident that you can create beautiful and inviting seasonal decorations. In additions we have these comments.

- HUD has determined that Christmas trees, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and other such decorations are not of a religious nature. The use of these decorations is, therefore, not a violation of the Fair Housing Act, no matter how prevalent they are.

- HUD has also determined that a menorah - the Hanukkah candelabra - is not a religious decoration.

- Nativity scenes, crosses, bibles, "happy birthday Jesus" signs, Stars of David, are all definitely religious in nature rather than secular, and should be avoided in public areas of a housing facility.

- The appearance of a property to the public is the responsibility of management. If the residents decorate the lobby and front door, therefore, management should exert some control over the type of decorations used.

- If decorations are permitted by management to be placed on an individual resident's door, however, the resident should be able to choose the decorations to use, as long as those decorations are within management's rules. In other words, the concerns management should appropriately have over holiday decorations in common areas and the office do not apply to residents' homes.


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