Political Signs and Your Pennsylvania HOA

We are in the heat of political season, and many homeowners have put up signs to support their preferred candidates. I have my own signs in my yard, and neighbors  in my community have different political signs in their yards, safely tucked into flower beds to avoid interfering with landscapers cutting lawns, and all too soon, clearing leaves.The U.S. Supreme Court has held that political signs are political speech, protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Pennsylvania courts have supported that reasoning while striking down governmental zoning laws or other municipal ordinances which restrict those signs posted on your own property within a reasonable time before and election, and removed within a reasonable time after.

While these signs are OK in my neighborhood, they may not be permitted by your Pennsylvania HOA under its governing documents, or their size and location may be greatly restricted. An HOA is not a governmental authority. Rather, it is an association of owners who have all accepted the terms of governing documents, from Covenants to Bylaws and Rules and regulations, enforced by an executive board and officers, or in some older associations, Codes of Regulations enforced by a council, many boards and councils delegating some enforcement authority to management companies.

Before you put up signs, get out your Declaration and other governing documents and read them. If you and the other owners in your association have agreed to give up the right to put out all signs, flags or banners, without distinction focusing on political speech, your association may be able to bar the signs you want or fine you every day you violate its rules. Midlake on Big Boulder Lake Condominium Association v. Cappuccio 449 Pa Superior Court 124 (1996) considered that issue with respect to for sale signs at a condominium association in Carbon County, but the analysis applies to political signs as well. It may not be quite as bad as the recent commercial for an insurance company in which Cynthia, the HOA president cuts down a mailbox with a chainsaw, but that parody does make light of the rights all owners in an association give up in exchange for other owners’ agreement to give up the same rights.

Read your documents carefully. Some prohibit all signs, but not flags. I even saw a lady this weekend who purchased a pinwheel with the candidate’s name on it, since her association did not allow signs or flags, but only small garden ornaments. Some associations ban outdoor signs but not window cling decorations. You need to know what is and is not allowed in your HOA, and follow the rules with your own political expressions.