The holiday season is a time of celebration for many. We sing carols, invite guests over and decorate our homes. Although they are pretty and create a festive atmosphere, Christmas decorations can cause some serious issues for those living in strata. So, what are these issues and what can you do to make sure everyone has a good Christmas?
Christmas decorations, as much as we love them, can cause safety hazards. Someone might trip over that cute santa sleigh and reindeer display in the foyer. The giant baubles suspended from the ceiling might fall and hit someone on the head. Or, the Christmas lights which have been hung around the building might cause a fire.
The owners corporation is responsible for any injury or damage which occurs on common property. As such, it is important to ensure that all decorations are safe and fastened securely, and any relevant approvals obtained.
Living in close proximity to others, there will always be some level of disturbance. However, Christmas decorations can compound this. Maybe the Christmas lights you threaded around your balcony balustrades are shining into the apartment across from yours, or the motion sensor singing santa next to your front door is getting on your neighbour’s nerves.
Nuisance is addressed in s 153(1) of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 (NSW). The term is not defined in the Act, but the NSW Supreme Court has held that it must be more than an inconvenience or annoyance.
In The Owners Strata Plan No. 2245 v Veney  NSWSC 134 (27 February 2020), the Court reiterated the High Court of Australia’s description of an actionable nuisance as being an “unlawful interference with a person’s use or enjoyment of land, or of some right over or in connection with the land”. It is possible that the Christmas lights and musical decorations would fall into this category.
So, does this mean that you cannot decorate your home for Christmas at all? No, not necessarily.
Making sure everyone has a good Christmas
If you want to decorate for Christmas, here are some things you should do to ensure everything goes smoothly:
- Check your by-laws
Your strata scheme may have specific by-laws in relation to Christmas lights and other seasonal decorations. Make sure that the decorations you want to display comply with the by-law. If your Scheme does not have a specific by-law, be aware of Model By-law 17 – Lot Appearance in Keeping with the rest of the building, or other similar by-laws. Ensure the relevant approvals are obtained for decorations.
- Be mindful of potential hazards or nuisance and mitigate
There are plenty of things you can do to mitigate the safety hazard and nuisance potential of your Christmas decorations. Consider the positioning of your Christmas lights and the duration of their presence. Perhaps you can even turn them off at certain times. Make sure that decorations are safe and secured firmly to prevent falls, and keep displays away from the main thoroughfare.
- Remember that you live with your neighbours for the rest of the year too
The nature of community living is one of compromise. If you do not take your neighbours into consideration when contemplating loud, bright, and disruptive Christmas decorations, the relationship may become strained, leading to tension and disputes.
This is general information and should not be considered to be legal advice. You should obtain legal advice specific to your individual situation.
Authors: Ashley Howard & Jasmin H.Singh