Before you deck the halls, check your lease agreement

Real estate, Money

Cranky landlords can put a crimp in your holiday lighting plans if things aren’t spelled out clearly in your lease agreement. According to several attorneys, there are no standard restrictions regarding how much a tenant can decorate for the holidays; however, you must be careful with candles, electrical wires and other fire hazards.

“Only your lease controls your tenancy,” says New York landlord-tenant attorney Steven Smollens. “Not someone’s ‘standard’ lease.”

Smollens goes on to say that most leases prohibit decorations outside apartment doors and in common hallways. Inside apartments, on the other hand, is another story.

“I have never heard of a lease that prohibited decorations within the apartment,” says Elizabeth Shollenberger, an attorney in Pleasantville, New York. “Obviously, you want to be careful with candles and wires, but unless your lease prohibits such things, decorate to your heart’s content.”

Only you can prevent electrical fires

No one wants to go out for an evening and return home to a burned down apartment building. That’s why, as a tenant, you should play it safe with holiday decorations. It’s okay to have them. You just don’t want to create any fire hazards, and you could be liable if your decorations do cause a fire.

The New York City Fire Department puts out a newsletter with Christmas tree and electrical wire safety tips for this time of year. They recommend that you:

  • Use fire-retardant artificial trees.
  • Make sure you get the right size tree for your apartment and take into consideration toppers and stands when measuring trees.
  • If you are using a real tree, gently grasp a branch to see if any needles come off. If they do, find another tree.
  • Don’t wait too long to buy a tree. The good ones go fast.
  • Keep your Christmas tree away from heat sources like fireplaces, heating system air registers, and space heaters.
  • Place your tree near an electrical outlet to minimize extension cord use.
  • Do not put lighted candles on your real Christmas tree.
  • Unplug Christmas lights before leaving the room or going to bed.

To be safe where electrical wires are concerned:

  • Keep cords out from under rugs and carpets.
  • If outlets are unusually warm or hot, unplug any connected cords or appliances.
  • Make sure outlets and switches have cover plates.
  • If cover plates are discolored, the wiring could be overheating. Unplug your Christmas tree lights immediately.
  • Do not overload outlets with appliances and electrical wires.

What if my landlord complains about my decorations?

If your landlord makes a big deal about your decorations, find out specifically what his complaint is. Then check your lease.

“Does your lease actually prohibit the use of a tree or decorations within your apartment?” Smollens asks. “If so, show your lease to an attorney.”

If your lease doesn’t explicitly forbid certain decorations, you might want to get an attorney involved. If your lease agreement says you can’t have a Christmas tree or certain types of decorations and you do have them, consult your attorney to see if the lease language is lawful or if it violates your tenant rights. The other option is to simply comply.