HOA political signs are a bold display of support for a cause that a resident believes in. However, do these political sign displays have a place in a managed community? Political signs in your HOA is a good thing. It can be a healthy display of people actively involved in the election process. Can HOA restrict political signs, though? What does the First Amendment say about this seeming limitation on the freedom of speech?
HOA political signs are always a hot topic in the HOA community, especially around election time when more and more people are showing their support for their candidate of choice. That is also the time when political signs start popping up in the yards and windows of many homeowners.
As you might expect, not everyone readily approves of this display. Some may disagree with certain political leanings. Others may also just prefer their neighborhood to be free of such symbols.
If you own a home in a community association such as an HOA, it’s good to know if HOA political signs are ok. Otherwise, this could be a source of contention between you and your association. It is certainly a touchy subject in parts of the HOA world every election season.
HOA political signs are such a topic of debate in some communities.
That is because many homeowners and condo associations have placed restrictions on the placement of signs on private property, including political signs. But just what is legal for an association to limit?
Is an HOA really stifling your First Amendment rights when they prevent you from displaying a political sign?
The answer is no. To put it briefly, the First Amendment limits federal, state, and local governments from doing things that stifle freedom of speech. That includes taking action or making laws that would inhibit the rights guaranteed by the U.S. constitution.
However, your HOA is not a part of the government. It’s a private entity, albeit a non-profit one in most cases. Sure, your HOA is subject to the governing rules enacted by government entities. But the First Amendment, by itself, does not stop your HOA from restricting HOA political signs.
A homeowner, as a party to a binding agreement with the HOA, also agrees to adhere to the regulations imposed by the association.
The United States Supreme Court has decided that a sign is a form of speech. Thus, they are a form of expression that should be protected by the First Amendment. The problem is that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment pertains to a government entity’s attempts to limit free speech. Because a community association is based upon contractual agreements among its owners, it constitutes a private entity. Therefore is not necessarily subject to this clause.
It’s not just the First Amendment that has a say about your HOA political signs, though. Many state constitutions have also defined legislation that seeks to protect freedom of speech. In some cases, these state laws enact certain protections that are even greater than what federal laws already provide.
States like New Jersey and Massachusetts have ruled in favor of homeowners. New Jersey found a statute in its state constitution that banned oppression from private entities as well as the government.
Massachusetts ruled that because HOA’s are subject to state statutes, their actions against signs constitute state action, making it illegal for a Massachusetts HOA to prohibit signs.
Other states including Arizona, California, Nevada, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Delaware have also sided in favor of homeowners when it comes to the public display of HOA political signs. Also, in Maryland, an HOA can’t restrict a member from putting up a political sign. As long as it’s in their own yard, of course.
On the other hand, Virginia associations are free to prohibit HOA political signs in their declaration. Of course, they are also free to allow their members to display their signs, as well. It’s a similar case in North Carolina. In NC, HOAs can restrict political signs in their own bylaws. They do have to be specific about it, though – they have to maintain that they are regulating political signs.
States like Kansas and Pennsylvania have also ruled that community associations in those states were within their jurisdiction as private entities to restrict the placement of political signs. What it boils down to is that if an HOA’s governing documents restrict the use of signs, they may have the authority to prohibit political signs.
Texas and Arizona have independently come up with a compromise between the freedom to display HOA signs and the board’s tendency to limit them. In these two states, an HOA is not allowed to prohibit political signs. However, this restriction is relaxed during a short window around election time.
That means for a certain number of days prior and after an election, an HOA is allowed to regulate the display of HOA political signs. They can limit the manner signs are displayed or specific places where they can be placed. Arizona also lets HOAs have a say in the size and number of political signs that the residents can place in their property. But only within a certain number of days before election day.
Before your association sets sign restrictions in place or attempts to assess fines against a homeowner for the placement of a sign, it would be a good idea to consult with your HOA attorney. A reputable national directory of HOA services should list several professional law firms with extensive HOA experience. There can be a lot of conflicting sources out there. It’s best to stick to expert advice in this case.