"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...".
Almost like clockwork, the day the advent calendar opens to December 1st is the day that Strata Councils across British Columbia open their mailboxes to a series of holiday-related questions. Can our bylaws prohibit live Christmas trees? Can our community restrict the timing of holiday lights? How much eggnog does it take to survive this year's AGM? Leaving aside the great eggnog debate, the question of how far and how much a Strata Council can regulate the holidays can be a challenging one.
Silver Bell Bylaws
The Strata Property Act, S.B.C. 1998, c. 43 ("Strata Property Act") is the principal legislation that governs the creation and operation of strata corporations in British Columbia. This legislation operates in conjunction with a strata corporation's bylaws and rules, as well as several other provincial and municipal laws that regulate how persons can use and enjoy their strata properties.
By default, strata corporations are given the "Schedule of Standard Bylaws" appended to the Strata Property Act. A community is free to amend those bylaws as they see fit, provided that the amendments do not conflict with the Strata Property Act or other laws (e.g. the Human Rights Code, municipal bylaws, etc.).
When it comes to regulating holiday decorations, the Standard Bylaws do not offer much coverage for Councils. That is, unless a holiday decoration causes a nuisance, hazard, or unreasonable interference with others' property use (see: Standard Bylaw 3). And while that 20 ft inflatable Grinch on the limited common property driveway may inspire some viable property use complaints, Strata Councils who wish to more formally regulate holiday decorations should consider making a list for the community's approval. And naturally, check it twice.
Naughty or Nice?
How far a community goes to curb the holiday cheer is really up to the community.
Most holiday bylaws are those that limit the kinds and timing of decorations that can deck the halls of a strata lot or be visible from the common areas. For example, some of the more popular bylaws in apartment-style strata corporations is to leave live Christmas trees at the lot, but allow their artificial cousins in the door. Communities may wish to prohibit "live" trees for a variety of reasons, including avoiding the potential fire hazards they present to the building and dodging the damage that can be sustained to the common area hallways during transport. Once the holidays are done, the bylaws can also regulate how the decorations and gift wrapping are removed (e.g. residents may be prohibited from disposing of trees in the garbage bin, or reminded to dispose of cardboard boxes and wrapping paper in the designated recycling receptacles). Other common bylaws include restrictions on the location and timing of holiday lighting, scope of yard installations, wreath placement (and maintenance), and recreation room "do's and don'ts" for holiday parties.
Although there is an endless variety of holiday bylaws (not unlike holiday treats), strata corporations should remain careful not to pass a bylaw or enforce a bylaw that has the effect of discriminating against a person's religious or cultural traditions contrary to the Human Rights Code. When in doubt as to whether a bylaw will land the Council on the naughty list, Councils should seek out legal advice.
Councils needn't look very far to find a mix of holiday rumbles these days. In 2017, the Civil Resolution Tribunal presided over a dispute about the use of holiday lights outside of the bylaws' permitted months (The Owners, Strata Plan LMS2450 v. Edwards, 2017 BCCRT 35). In that case, the Tribunal upheld the bylaw and the owners' festive display was found to warrant not so festive fines. The following year, the Tribunal was confronted with a preliminary issue as to whether someone cut a string of electric Christmas lights on their patio (Haack v. The Owners, Strata Plan NW 2198, 2018 BCCRT 284). As there was no actual claim to light up in that dispute, the Civil Resolution Tribunal made no findings on the issue. The Civil Resolution Tribunal was even tasked with presiding over a disagreement arising from the sale of tickets to a Christmas function (Grant v. The Owners, Strata Plan LMS 1107, 2019 BCCRT 114). Anyone wishing to RSVP to more holiday squabbles can take a stroll on the Tribunal's decision database for more information.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.