Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Political Sign

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By Kieran J. Purcell, Esq.

As the 2020 political season gears up it is not uncommon to see political signs popping up in community associations which often leads to questions like: “Do homeowners have the right to display political signs?” “If so, where can they post political signs? “How soon after the election can we make them take down their signs?”  Chances are your association’s governing documents have a sign provision, and the city or county your association is located in likely has an ordinance governing political signs too.  However, the answers to these questions are found in your association’s governing documents and/or the California Civil Code.  Spoiler alert-you may not like the answers.

An Association May Prohibit an Owner From Posting Political Signs in the Common Area, But Not On or In Their Separate Interest Property. Generally, an association’s CC&Rs provide its board of directors has the sole and exclusive right manage and control the common area.  Some CC&Rs may also provide no signs may be erected or displayed in the common area without permission from the board. Or the CC&Rs may allow specific signs, e.g. one (1) sign of customary and reasonable dimensions offering a condominium for sale or lease.  If so, that means the board does not have to allow an owner to put political signs on the common area, right? And if an owner does place a political sign in the common area and refuses to timely remove it, the association can remove it, right? The answer to both questions is yes. Here’s why.

Civil Code section 4710 provides:

(a) The governing documents may not prohibit posting or displaying of noncommercial signs, posters, flags, or banners on or in a member’s separate interest, except as required for the protection of public health or safety or if the posting or display would violate a local, state, or federal law.

(b) For purposes of this section, a noncommercial sign, poster, flag, or banner may be made of paper, cardboard, cloth, plastic, or fabric, and may be posted or displayed from the yard, window, door, balcony, or outside wall of the separate interest, but may not be 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.

(c) An association may prohibit noncommercial signs and posters that are more than nine square feet in size and noncommercial flags or banners that are more than 15 square feet in size.

Therefore, a homeowner may post political sign(s) not larger than nine (9) square feet, made of the statutorily permitted materials in or on his or her separate interest property, but Civil Code section 4710 does not grant a homeowner the right to post signs-political in nature or otherwise-in the common area.

How Long Can a Political Sign Be Displayed Before/After An Election?  While CC&Rs rarely contain similar provisions, it would be reasonable for an association to adopt a rule with similar time limitations for owners to post political signs within their association, right?  Maybe. Many cities and counties have ordinances establishing time limits for when political signs may be posted, e.g. ninety (90) days before, and ten (10) days, after an election.  Civil Code section 4710 allows an association to prohibit the posting or displaying of noncommercial signs on an owner’s separate interest if the posting or display would violate a local, state, or federal law. Consequently, an association may be able to adopt rules which mirror the same time limitations set out in local ordinances.

Okay, So We Have To Let Someone Post a Political Sign, But Just One Right?

Maybe.  Civil Code section 4710(a) says governing documents may not prohibit noncommercial signs, posters, flags or banners, plural.  Unless prohibiting the sign(s), etc. protects public health or safety or if the posting or display would violate a local, state, or federal law.  Some examples of this would be: (a) if an owner displayed so many flags close to the street it impaired drivers from seeing other cars, (b) the city requires a permit for a flag pole over a certain height and the owner has no permit, or (c) the city limits how many signs can be displayed at one time on private property.