EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on the CAI Advocacy Blog (https://advocacy.caionline.org/) and was posted on October 28, 2022. It is reprinted here by permission of CAI.
Election season is here across the U.S., which often puts the subject of political sign regulations at the forefront of discussions between community association leaders and residents, legislators, and the media. This week, the CAI Board of Trustees adopted the Political and Noncommercial Signs and Flags Public Policy to help CAI’s state legislative action committees navigate legislation on this topic.
CAI’s Government and Public Affairs Committee has been developing the public policy for the past several years.
Conversations on political signs and flags in community associations typically center on how they are displayed and their content. Community association boards, managers, and residents must be educated on applicable laws, case law, and their governing documents to appropriately regulate them. The First Amendment guarantees the right to freedom of speech without restriction by government entities or state actors. It does not apply to private parties such as community associations, enabling associations to adopt and enforce restrictions that reasonably regulate political and noncommercial speech within their community. Some states, however, have constitutions or other laws that provides a broader free speech right that does not depend on state action.
Throughout history, it’s always been a relatively small minority of people who have spoken out regarding sign and flag regulations because they are passionate about a subject. It is important to protect and serve the voice of all residents to allow reasonable expression of speech through signage, while not interfering with the property rights of other residents.
CAI respects the right to freedom of speech set forth in the constitutions of the United States and various states but recognizes that right is not unlimited. CAI also recognizes and supports the rights of residential community associations to reasonably regulate political and noncommercial signs within communities in a manner consistent with federal, state, and local laws. CAI supports legislation that recognizes the core principles of self-governance, self-regulation, and co-ownership of common property and the community association housing model balanced with owners’ rights of free speech. Because each community is unique, legislation should allow an association to develop reasonable rules and regulations concerning the time, location, materials, size, number, and manner of where political and noncommercial signs, political displays, or political activities are located while preserving freedom of political expression.
Current State Laws and Regulations
Laws governing political signs vary by state. Rules vary by community to reflect the preferences of homeowners. Currently, 13 states have statutes regarding signage that communities must follow. If your state does not have an explicit law, be sure to review your association’s governing documents and consult with your community manager and attorney before moving forward.
It is important for community managers and the board to send approved rules through email, upload notices on the community website, and display them on entry signs to encourage compliance, particularly regarding how many days before an election a sign can be put up and how many days after an election a sign must be taken down. CAI calls upon community association board members, community managers, residents, and attorneys to review governing documents periodically and work together to create rules that will bring the community closer together.
Nine out of 10 condominium and homeowners association residents typically vote in national, state, and local elections, according to the 2022 Homeowner Satisfaction Survey conducted by Zogby Analytics on behalf of the Foundation for Community Association Research. With more than 74.1 million residents living in community associations, according to the Foundation, this represents about 66.7 million voters.
To help community association boards navigate these important conversations, CAI created the Rights & Responsibilities for Better Communities and the Community Association Civility Pledge. We encourage boards to adopt these principles and engage these best practices.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Phoebe E. Neseth, Esq. is Director of Government and Public Affairs and the College of Community Association Lawyers with Community Associations Institute.