Yes, you can be asked to remove your yard sign.
With only weeks before the election, Northern Virginia residents continue to engage in the high-stakes battle of the placement of campaign yard signs. But, can they be asked to remove these signs? For the thousands of residents who live in one of the hundreds of homeowners and condominium associations throughout the region, the answer is yes.
While Virginia localities (counties, cities) cannot prohibit the display of a political campaign sign on private property, this rule does not apply to private homeowners’ associations. Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-109. According to Virginia’s former Attorney General Richard Cullen and his September 30, 2014 AG Opinion, “the restriction imposed by § 15.2-109 on a locality’s authority to regulate the display of political campaign signs on private property does not apply to private homeowners’ associations.” In other words, private homeowners’ associations can “regulate the conduct of their members by covenant, resolution, or guidelines,” including the placement of campaign signs.
Well, one may ask, what about our First Amendment right to free speech? HOAs and condo associations are private communities, not the government or a state actor, and thus the First Amendment does not apply.
In sum, if a private Virginia community does not want its lawns cluttered with campaign signs, it has the right to prohibit them. More commonly, however, associations regulate the placement, duration of posting and/or the size of campaign signs through a clear and reasonable policy.
So where can these prohibitions or reasonable regulations be found?
For new owners in an HOA, check your “association disclosure packet.” Effective July 2020, the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act now requires that an association disclosure packet contain a “statement setting forth any restrictions as to the size, place, duration, or manner of placement or display of political signs by a lot owner on his lot.” Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1809. Otherwise, review the association’s governing documents for a recorded covenant. Does the declaration or bylaws prohibit political campaign signs? If there is no prohibition, check the rules of the association. Reasonable restrictions and regulations often address the type, size, location and number of signs, and duration of display time before required removal. Note: Some associations may exceed their authority to regulate. An association’s authority to adopt rules regulating owner’s lots must be set forth in the declaration (or in the case of a condominium, it may be set forth in the bylaws). Thus, there may be questions about the association’s authority to adopt rules regulating signs on an owner’s lot as opposed to in the common areas.
Is the grass greener on the other side of the Potomac? Maryland residents in HOAs and condominium associations cannot be prohibited from displaying campaign signs, but time restrictions imposed on sign placement are allowed. At a minimum, Maryland owners may display their campaign yard signs for 30 days prior to and 7 days after an election. See Maryland Homeowners Association Act, Md. Real Property Code Ann. § 11B-111.2, and Maryland Condominium Act, Md. Real Property Code Ann. § 11-111.2.
If you have a question about implementing or enforcing reasonable restrictions on campaign signs, including but not limited to a time restriction, reach out to a local community association attorney.
AUTHOR BIO: Madelaine A. Kramer is a member of Sands Anderson PC’s community associations team and litigation group. She focuses her practice on matters involving procedural complexities and oddities. When she is not in the McLean, Virginia (Fairfax County) office of Sands Anderson, she resides with her husband in Bethesda, Maryland.