When politics comes between you and your HOA

Since 2016 presidential election, it seems politics is in everybody's mind, so it is fair to say that clashes between residents of communities expressing their political preferences through signs in their lawns and their Homeowners Associations, or HOAs, have intensified.

The problem is that the rules about placing signs for political candidates are not always clear. Take the case of the Bennet family in Katy, Texas. According to local reports, Shannon Bennet and her husband decided to show their support for the democratic candidate to the Senate Beto O'Rourke painting in big bold white letters his name, BETO, on their lawn. They immediately received and angry warning by the Chesterfield Community Association claiming that the residents are violating a state law of the Texas Property Code in that it prohibits political signs that are attached to plant material. The family's argument is that the sign is temporary and is not landscaping.

Every HOA has its own rules about political signs and these often they depend on state laws. Some states prevent HOAs from making sign rules while others give them enough room to regulate the issue. For example, the state of Florida allows the placement of political signs in private property but requires that the sign not be placed within 660 feet of the edge of the right-of-way of any state or federal highway or within 100 feet of a church, school, cemetery, public park, reservation, playground, or state/national forest. Additionally, signs in areas that are next to the state or federal right-of-way that are attached to trees, in poor condition or otherwise unsafe may be removed. Also, every sign must contain one of the following statement: “Political advertisement paid for and approved by (name of the candidate, (party affiliation) for (office sought).”

This doesn't prevent HOAs from including stricter guidelines in their rules. Some residents would argue that those kinds of regulations constitute a violation of the First Amendment, freedom of speech, but although the Constitution protects freedom of expression, it applies primarily in public settings, not private. In other words, while a city or county probably can't tell you to put your signs down, an HOA can because it is a private organization that you choose to join when you move into the community. Granted, there have been cases where defendants have argued that the associations are “state actors;” that is, quasi-governmental bodies. And some cases of political signage have even reached the Supreme Court, but so far, a clear precedent hasn't been set.

The main concern of HOAs about political sign is that they could impact the value of the properties within a community in the sense that a potential buyer wouldn't want to live next to a person that support a very radical candidate.

If you are a person that is vocal in politics, it is highly recommended that you check the homeowner's association rules and local regulations and laws regarding political signs before your move in. That is now extremely easy to do thanks to EasyMGT database of thousands of HOAs regulations where you can search by the name of the community or topic.

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