Let Them Celebrate
This week I received a few emails from clients with owners complaining about other owners celebrating Diwali over the weekend. Some emails were from owners who felt harassed by other owners because they chose to celebrate. Unfortunately, this is a regular occurrence after any holiday or celebration, especially it seems any holiday or celebration that is not celebrated by the majority of people in the condominium. Today, we write about common issues that create hostility among owners surrounding holidays and offer some suggestions for improving harmony in the condominium.
Condominiums who decorate the common elements with decorations during some religious holidays but not others do so at their own peril. Similarly, condominiums with rules that allow Christmas lights but not lights for other holidays are likely discriminating against certain owners.
What should condominiums do instead?
If a board wants to put up decorations, consider using more generic holiday decorations. For example, instead of a Christmas tree, try a snowy winter scene instead. Or include decorations for different celebrations occurring around the same time like a Christmas tree and a menorah for Chanukah. Ask the owners which holidays they celebrate and ask for their ideas for decorations.
What about the units?
How about rules that allow owners to have a reasonable number of lights for any holiday or celebration instead of specifically mentioning Christmas lights in the rules. Worried about owners leaving the lights up all year? The rule could say they must be turned off or taken down within a certain number of days of the end of the celebration or holiday.
There have been a few cases about condominiums holding meetings on days of significance and allegations that it was discriminatory toward a group of owners. See this one for example: https://www.canlii.org/en/on/onhrt/doc/2015/2015hrto53/2015hrto53.pdf. While the condominiums were generally successful in defending these claims, it is only a matter of time before a case comes up with the right facts to support one. As such, we recommend condominiums carefully consider all holidays and celebrations when choosing their meeting dates.
Similarly, condominiums should be careful when choosing dates for any maintenance, repairs, or inspections within the units as owners may be celebrating holidays during the selected times. Obviously it will be impossible to schedule around holidays during emergency repairs, but the annual fire inspection, for example, should be scheduled to avoid major holidays and celebrations.
The above should not be taken as a suggestion that owners should be free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want. The condominium still has an obligation to ensure that the property is reasonably safe for people and that owners are not engaging in activities that may damage the property, injure people, or create a nuisance. The point is that all rules should be consistently enforced for all owners and not targeted toward specific holidays or celebrations. For example, if a condominium’s rules prohibit fireworks, the rule should be enforced whether it is New Years, Canada Day, or Diwali. Similarly, rules prohibiting loud noise that disturbs others should be enforced whether it is midnight on New Years, a holiday party, or after the local sports team wins the championship. It is about consistency and fairness when it comes to enforcement.
Harmony and Respect
If condominiums want to foster interfaith harmony and mutual respect among residents, they should think carefully when enacting new rules, calling meetings, and scheduling work in units. Communications from the condominium should make it clear that owners are free to celebrate whatever holidays and celebrations they wish, so long as they do so in a way that does not pose a risk of damage to the property, injury to others, or a nuisance. In some cases, it may be necessary to remind owners that they should not harass or intimidate others who might choose to celebrate different holidays than they do. People need to enjoy their own holidays and stop worrying about their neighbours. The more they do, the happier they will be – and the more likely they will be to avoid harassing or intimidating their neighbours whose holiday celebrations are different.