The presidential race is in full-swing and everyone is gearing up for campaign season. While some people prefer to keep their opinions to themselves, others want you to know exactly who they’re voting for and why. How does all this come into play when you live in a homeowner’s association?
First, it’s inappropriate for the HOA board to act politically. In other words, the Board as an entity should not declare a “side” so to speak. That being said, it can support both sides of the political spectrum by doing the following.
Invite local candidates to a forum night
While the presidential election is important, perhaps more applicable to residents in your homeowner’s association are the measures that will actually affect your local community. Your HOA board could invite local candidates and representatives, who are both for and against measures, to speak about their causes at a Board meeting or special candidate forum night, offering an opportunity for community members to ask questions and be informed.
This would be an especially appropriate action if there’s a measure on the ballot that directly affects the Association or resident’s way of living in some way. For example, restrictions that have to do with water use or additional property taxes.
Encourage residents to vote
Homeowners have the first amendment right to free speech, but does this include the freedom to post political yard signs? HOA board members need to be prepared to address this issue, starting with understanding exactly what the Association's CC&Rs say.
Typically, there are some restrictions regarding the use of political signs, such as prohibiting where they can be posted, time periods for displaying, the number that can be displayed, the size of the signs, and sometimes even the decorative components.
For example, the law in California, stated on Davis-Stirling.com says the following:
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 signs and posters on or in an owner's separate interest. Associations can, however, prohibit signs that are more than 9 square feet in size. (Civ. Code §4710.)
Time Limits. Associations can set reasonable time periods for the display of political signs. Many cities have regulations requiring the removal of signs between 5 and 15 days after the election. Some also limit the posting of political signs 45 to 90 days before an election. Associations may adopt similar restrictions in their rules and regulations.
Number of Signs. In addition to limiting the size, composition, and location of signs, it appears associations can regulate the number of signs. (Fourth La Costa v. Seith.)
Other Limits. Associations can prohibit signs that are painted on an architectural surface; or are made of flora, balloons, lights, roofing, siding, paving materials, or other similar building, landscaping or decorative components. Associations can also prohibit flags and banners that are more than 15 square feet in size. (Civ. Code §4710.) In addition, signs displaying obscenity or fighting words can be restricted.
It's important to note that if the CC&Rs contradict the law -- which gives pretty liberal rights to display political signs on homeowners’ separate interests (on their property, not common area) -- the law trumps the CC&Rs.
Another way to encourage members to vote is to find out if you can utilize a common area as a polling place. Offering up common area space both for candidate forums and as a polling place is a great way to encourage involvement in the election. People may not feel like their vote matters, but it does.
If the HOA board is ever in doubt about what it can and cannot appropriately do during an election, consult with your attorney. They can tell you whether or not you could or should endorse a measure that affects the HOA and the actions to take regarding political sign rules that aren’t being followed or unruly homeowners who would rather protest.
To prevent political views from getting out of hand, the Board should remain transparent, neutral, and have open communication by sending out correspondence to the members advising of the HOA rules during campaign season, consequences if they aren’t followed, and reminding residents of the privilege they have to live in a democratic country – regardless of their political views.