QUESTION: It says in our CC&Rs that no political signs are allowed. The association does not want political signs cluttering up the property. Is that allowable?
ANSWER: Although associations can prohibit signs in the common areas, they cannot prohibit political signs, posters, flags or banners on or in an owner's separate interest unless (i) made of lights, roofing, siding, paving materials, flora, or balloons, or any other similar building, landscaping, or decorative component, or include the painting of architectural surfaces, or (ii) signs or posters are more than nine square feet in size or flags or banners that are more than 15 square feet in size. (Civ. Code §4710.) In addition, signs, posters and flags displaying obscenity or fighting words can be restricted.
Time Limits. Associations can set reasonable time periods for the display of political signs. In mobilehome residency law regulating subdivisions, cooperatives and condominiums, a political sign "may not be displayed in excess of a period of time from 90 days prior to an election to 15 days following the election, unless a local ordinance... imposes a more restrictive period of time for the display of such a sign." (Civ. Code §799.10.)
In addition, various appellate cases have likened associations to landlords and owners to tenants. By statute, "A tenant shall post and remove political signs in compliance with the time limits set by the ordinance for the jurisdiction where the premises are located... If no local ordinance exists or if the local ordinance does not include a time limit for posting and removing political signs on private property, the landlord may establish a reasonable time period for the posting and removal of political signs. A reasonable time period for this purpose shall begin at least 90 days prior to the date of the election or vote to which the sign relates and end at least 15 days following the date of the election or vote." (Civ. Code §1940.4(d).)
Number of Signs. Associations can also set reasonable limits on the number of signs. In a case that dealt with real estate signs in a homeowners association, the court concluded, "While an association may not ban such advertisements entirely [cite], to protect all owners it may impose reasonable restrictions for aesthetic purposes [cite].... Moreover, we see no problem with allowing only one sign per unit, or requiring that signs be removed within three days of a lease or sale." (Fourth La Costa v. Seith.) When it comes to political signs, one sign might be too restrictive but maybe not. It will depend on what a court deems "reasonable."
Recommendation: Boards should work with legal counsel to develop reasonable rules related to signage.
ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.