2020 Political Signs: Get Your Strategy in Place Now
2020 is here, and election season is right around the corner — depending on your location, it may have already started. You can count on some owners wanting to post signs supporting their preferred candidates. What can your client associations do about it?
According to Stephen Davis, an attorney with the firm Carmody MacDonald who represents more than 150 associations in the St. Louis, Mo., area, associations must “determine where is the line between maintaining community standards and uniformity without trampling on owners’ fundamental right to express their political beliefs.”
“It’s been on fire as an issue for a while,” says Brendan Bunn, a partner practicing community association law with the Fairfax, Va., firm Chadwick, Washington, Moriarty, Elmore & Bunn, P.C.
For example, a dispute in a Virginia association over a sign supporting a candidate in the 2008 presidential election ran for four years and cost the association hundreds of thousands of dollars. A homeowner placed a sign saying “Obama for President” in the front yard, but the sign was four inches taller than allowed in the covenants.
After receiving a letter from the board of directors threatening a lien, the homeowner replaced the single sign with “OBA” and “MA” signs that complied with the size restrictions. Things spiraled out of control from there.
The homeowners eventually sued the association on several grounds. “The authority of the association to even regulate signs came up,” Bunn says.
As the case ground through the courts, the association jacked up dues from $650 per year to about $3,500, largely to cover legal fees. Ultimately, it filed for bankruptcy, and a bankruptcy trustee put the community square at the heart of the association up for sale to settle its debts.
To learn what your associations can do to avoid a similar fate, read our new article Election 2020: Can Associations Restrict Political Signs?