As Election Day draws near, disputes over political yard signs can lead to lessons of free-speech in America’s neighborhoods. Homeowners’ desires to the express their political views by planting yard signs may collide with community association boards’ efforts to preserve their communities’ appearance.
It is important for your community to have reasonable rules about political signs and even more important to have a community association manager with the knowledge and skill to effectively guide the residents through the process of creating, communicating and enforcing community rules. Community association managers are like small town mayors, with the responsibility to be reasonable and fair while upholding rules. If your community has yard sign regulations, make sure they conform to state and local laws and enforce them consistently, management should be knowledgeable of best practices, industry standards and laws affecting political signs. Make sure your community is protected with competent management.
The courts have found that the right to display a political yard sign in community association-governed property is not protected under free speech rights. Instead, the association’s governing documents as well as city, county and state statutes dictate if yard signs are permissible.
Here are a few tips for associations whose covenants don’t currently regulate the display of political signs but are considering it
- Consult state statute. State law may already regulate such signs.
- Consult local town or county regulations. Some counties regulate the duration and placement of signs.
- Work with your community manager to develop a rule that will be effective for your community during the next election.
- Don’t prohibit signs without exception. The right to express political views during campaign season is dearly held. If your association’s rules are content neutral, reasonable and consistently enforced, there’s less chance of expensive litigation.
- Remind residents of sign rules prior to election season.
- Don’t forcibly remove signs. This is only a last resort, because it will cause hard feelings.
- Approach enforcement in a friendly, neutral manner.