By: Dan Rich
Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.
Q: Can a homeowners association prohibit the display of political yard signs?
A: As the 2016 presidential election draws closer, it is inevitable that we all will start seeing political signs popping up everywhere. You will find them plastered in windows, at most, if not all, intersections, and probably even along the median of I-4. But, oddly enough, one place you may not see any political signs is in your yard if you happen to live in a homeowners association.
The majority of governing documents for homeowners’ associations prohibit signs of any type from being placed on owners’ lots. But you may be thinking, “Can my association legally restrict me from exercising my freedom of speech?” The short answer is yes, and this is why.
Freedom of speech applies only when there is what is called “state action,” or in simpler terms government action. Basically, freedom of speech prevents federal, state and local governments from restricting our speech or restricting actions that express our views. But homeowners associations are private, not government, actors and therefore may impose restrictions and regulations on speech that the government simply cannot. Furthermore, when you purchase a home in a community that happens to be governed by covenants and restrictions, you are essentially entering into a contract where you have agreed to abide by all those rules and regulations. What this means is that if you live in a community that regulates the public placement of signs, you have technically contractually agreed to forbid yourself from placing any signs on your property, including political signs.
While published Florida case law may not have addressed the issue of political signs directly, a 1989 appeals court decision involving Quail Creek Property Owners Association in Naples sided with the association over the demand for an owner to remove a “For Sale” sign from his front yard. The court held that the association was not a governmental entity and that there was no “state action.” Therefore, the enforcement of the sign restriction did not violate the owner’s free speech rights. While this decision relates to a “For Sale” sign, and not a political sign, it is important because it illustrated the courts deference to the homeowners associations’ rules and regulations when there is no “state action.”
Understanding whether you can proudly display your political signs as the election draws closer and the debates intensify is an interesting legal question that requires owners to review their community’s governing documents, and for the association itself to consider whether or not to amend its governing documents to add language regarding signs.
The May 19th edition of “The Law” will discuss the effects of radon on property and particular concerns in Lakeland.
Dan Rich is an attorney with the law firm Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A. Questions can be submitted online to firstname.lastname@example.org