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Political Signs in Community Associations

by | Oct 31, 2022 | Firm News |

Each election season, we receive questions about political signs in condominiums and homeowners associations. Can community associations restrict political signs, and what are some of the considerations?

Freedom of Speech
There is a US Supreme Court case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 576 U.S. 155 (2015), which limits municipalities from prohibiting signs based on the First Amendment. However, a community association is not a municipality or government entity. Some States, such as Indiana, have state laws addressing restrictions on political signs by community associations. The Michigan Condominium Act, MCL 559.156a, guarantees the right of a co-owner to display a United States flag on the exterior of the Unit. However, Michigan does a law guarantees similar rights for political signs. By choosing to live in property covered by a Master Deed or Declaration of Restrictions, co-owners and homeowners give up rights they would otherwise have in less-regulated neighborhoods.

Enforceability of Restrictions
Generally, restrictions will be enforceable if they are contained in the recorded Master Deed and Condominium Bylaws for condominiums or in the recorded Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions for homeowners associations. Restrictions in unrecorded documents, such as Rules & Regulations, may not be enforceable unless the recorded documents specifically authorizes them.

Selective Enforcement
When a community association enforces its restrictions, then it must enforce them equally against all co-owners or homeowners. If the association sends notices or levies fines for sign violations, then it must send notice and levy fines against all co-owners and homeowners similarly in violation. If an association targets only particular messages, then it is selectively enforcing its restrictions, which can create a defense to the enforcement action.

Locations for Display
Even if permitted, co-owners or homeowners and homeowners may display signs only in their exclusive use areas. For a homeowners association, this will normally be the homeowner’s lot, with the possible exception of easements or sidewalk strips. For a detached site condominium, this may be the entire lot, or only an envelope around the home. For an attached condominium, this may be only the porch, patio, or balcony. Co-owners and homeowners may not display signs in common areas or common elements, such as entrances, clubhouses, parks, medians, or cul-de-sacs. Note that the Michigan Department of Transportation requires that signs must be more than 30 feet from the edge of the roadway (white line) for public roads that do not have barrier-type curbs. For public roads with barrier curbs, the signs must be more than three feet from the back of the curb.

Display Time and Removal
Some associations allow display for up to 90 days before an election. However, Boards of Directors should note that if a primary candidate successfully advances to the general election, then this could result in continuous display from May to November. Associations wanting to avoid this should choose a shorter advance period. A second consideration is removal. The November general election is close to frost season, and it is possible for signs to freeze into the ground. To avoid this, associations should require prompt removal after the election. Note that the Michigan Department of Transportation requires property owners along public roads to remove signs within 10 days following an election, and some municipalities specify 7 days.

Are you a director, officer, or manger of a community association, and have questions about political signs or other restrictions? We at Tilchin & Hall, P.C. have many years of experience in these matters, and we are available to advise you regarding administration and enforcement. Please reach out to us at (248) 349-6203 or email us using the form below.

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