Can one neighbor force another to remove political signs or elaborate decorations?
Generally, no. They can ask a neighbor to reposition bright lights or attempt to form a neighborhood agreement to abstain from campaign signs during election season. Ultimately, it is the property owner's decision whether to comply with such a request.
Of course, your property rights may not be absolute. Some local governments have sign ordinances or restrictions on commercial advertising. Many areas prohibit permanent or temporary structures or objects from right-of-ways or other places subject to an easement.
Nuisance laws could apply as well. If holiday decorations feature loud music, they could violate a noise ordinance. Some places, especially rural areas, limit brightness or the hours lights can be on display.
Can an HOA prohibit political signs or other controversial decorations?
The Supreme Court has ruled that political signs are free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Still, a homeowner's association may limit political signs or decorations associated with a religious holiday provided the rules are fair. An HOA, for instance, may ban all signs regardless of content. It can also limit decorations to a certain number of days or the hours for exterior lighting. HOAs often enforce their rules through fines that the property owner may ultimately be responsible for.
Some places limit HOA rules. For example, local laws may direct HOAs to permit campaign signs or certain flags. Federal law prohibits HOAs from barring property owners or tenants from displaying the American flag, although restrictions on how this is done may be imposed.
In a rental property situation, a tenant may not be aware of HOA rules or may think they may not suffer any consequences for breaking them. If a rental property is part of an HOA, the Lease Agreement may instruct a tenant to follow HOA rules, even if there are changes, and pay all associated fines. Be sure to provide your tenant a copy of the rules and notify them in writing of any changes.
What if the lease or HOA does not say anything about displays?
If HOA rules do not specifically say anything about displays, the HOA board could apply general rules about property appearance. It is also possible that the board votes to change the rules, if it has the authority to do so under the HOA covenants. This is a reason that landlords write Lease Agreements to require tenants to follow the HOA rules versus writing out the HOA rules into a lease.
If a Lease Agreement does not discuss displays, a landlord's authority to demand a tenant take something down may be limited to zoning or housing code violations. In some instances, tenants may voluntarily agree to remove a display for safety concerns, hazards, disruptions, or some other reason. Landlords may ask a tenant to sign a Lease Amendment or wait until the end of the lease to impose new terms upon renewal.
If your tenant refuses to make changes despite lease terms or HOA rules, talk to an attorney about your options, such as serving an Eviction Notice.
What can a homeowner or tenant do if they want to put up a sign that the landlord or HOA denies?
A landlord or HOA are not government agencies, so a tenant's First Amendment rights may be limited. Still, HOA restrictions must be content or viewpoint neutral and based on the physical characteristics of the display or sign. For example, an HOA can ban signage that interferes with public access, or contains obscenity or commercial advertising. It cannot, however, ban signs for a certain party, candidate, or position.
Some local laws may restrict an HOA from banning political signs during election season. Relatedly, local laws may limit the rules a landlord can set, even in a Lease Agreement. These laws are similar to those limiting what HOAs can do.
Many situations can be solved by having a conversation with the HOA, landlord, or tenant. If you have more questions about displaying political signs or festive decorations, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.