Signs of the Times

/ Owner - July 27, 2012

It seems that with every election cycle, the campaigns start earlier and earlier.  It’s almost to the point where it feels like there is no break or rest between them.  Also, the politics of our country are getting more and more divisive and well, just plain mean.  It only stands to reason that condominium and homeowner associations are getting caught in the middle, with another “no-win” situation.  The main issue of confrontation is with signs.

The signs can be for or against a candidate, or for or against an issue.  If someone feels strongly enough about it to put up a sign in front of their home or in their window, then they’re probably not going to be thrilled when the association requests that they take it down.  Practically every association has a bylaw, or rule, prohibiting signs.  They were put into the documents for the self-preservation of the developer, who didn’t want prospective buyers seeing signs telling the world what a rotten builder he was.  Blocking political signs was probably not even considered, but to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, they possibly may have considered that an association full of signs saying different things about issues or candidates, probably wouldn’t be a great foundation for building community spirit.  Whatever, signage of any type, (sometimes even including “For Sale” signs) were usually prohibited completely, or controlled very tightly.

This isn’t a major problem in a condominium, where everything outside the interior walls, is usually common area, and the prohibition of signs could be justified by saying that you don’t have the right to put up a sign on property you don’t own.  And most condominiums have controls over the exterior appearance of windows, so that owners are not so surprised by the “no signs” rules.  Homeowner and property owner associations have a slightly tougher time with varying limits of what the association has control over and what it doesn’t.  So it’s not surprising that most of the complaints about signs come from HOA’s.  I’m not going to get into the recent New Jersey case in which their Supreme Court ruled for an owner regarding a sign on the inside of a condo window, as New Jersey’s state constitution made that ruling possible and most states do not have similar wording in their constitutions.

I’m also not going to get into the pros and cons of allowing political signs.  I think that argument is going to be run over by state legislators who want to make sure that their supporters have the right to support them, publicly as well as financially.  The more news stories we see about political signs being blocked by associations, the faster we’re going to see legislation removing association’s right to control them.  If past experience with these kinds of issues is any indication, the laws passed will pretty much gut any control the associations might have or want.  It’s even possible that we could see Congress step in, as it did with the American flag issues.

If both condominium and homeowner associations don’t come up with a way to accommodate the First Amendment rights of the owner, they’re going to have them mandated.  It time for a national discussion of this issue and help with finding reasonable ways to allow citizens to express their political beliefs (we could only hope in a positive way, but I’m not that naive).  If anyone has some good ideas on how this might be accomplished, we would be happy to read them and print them.  Just send them to the Editor.

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