Few of us can remember a time when Americans were so fiercely divided on political issues – and lately, it seems like just about everything has become a political issue. Many people prefer to keep their opinions largely to themselves. Others want to share them far and wide. This can often translate to posting signs in their yard and their windows for political candidates and hanging banners and flags to show their support for a movement.
Homeowners’ associations (HOAs) naturally have concerns, particularly around elections, about their communities becoming strewn with political signs and un-neighborly battles breaking out as people take sides. But can they prevent people from posting political signs?
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in a case nearly a decade ago against an HOA that had completely banned campaign signs. The majority of justices said that “the sign policy in question violates the free speech clause of the State Constitution.”
Some restrictions are allowed – and probably wise
Homeowners’ associations can, however, have some regulations around signage, banners, flags and demonstrations. They just need to be clear and consistent – and enforced consistently.
For example, an HOA can limit the size and number of signs a resident can have that are visible from outside their home. They can also limit the display of that signage to a specific period around an election.
An HOA can prohibit banners on balconies and outside walls and fences. They can prohibit political signage in common areas, door-to-door soliciting by those who live in the community and loudspeakers in vehicles promoting a candidate or cause. It may be wise to specify what is considered “political.” Is a rainbow flag a political expression or just a sign of pride or of being an ally?
One of the goals of HOAs is to promote neighborhood unity. Seeing a neighborhood turn into a political or ideological battlefield doesn’t do that. Myriad signs and banners also don’t help the aesthetic of a community. If your HOA has questions about developing a policy around political signage, it’s best to seek legal guidance. This can help you minimize complaints and avoid litigation.