Control over Campaign Signs in Community Associations
It’s summertime, and the Atlanta metropolitan area is seeing a surge in campaign signs as political campaigns gear up for the upcoming November election. Community associations may be wondering if they have any control over campaign signs within their communities, especially if their Declarations of Covenants contain sign restrictions.
The First Amendment and Community Associations
Contrary to a common misconception, community associations have the right to prohibit signs, including political signs, within their communities, despite the First Amendment right to free speech. This has been consistently upheld by Georgia courts and courts in other parts of the country.
Legal Precedent: Bryan v. MBC Partners, L.P.
In the primary Georgia case on this issue, Bryan v. MBC Partners, L.P., an owner challenged a community association’s restrictive covenant that prohibited all signs except for “For Sale” signs and those approved by the association. The owner argued that the covenant violated their freedom of speech. However, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the validity of the restrictive covenant regulating signs.
The Court found that while signs are a form of protected free speech under the U.S. Constitution and the Georgia Constitution, individuals can waive or renounce constitutionally protected rights as long as it does not affect the public interest. The Court reasoned that a restrictive covenant is an agreement accepted by homeowners when they purchase a lot subject to the covenant. It only applies to those who agree to be bound by its terms, therefore not affecting the public interest. Consequently, the Court held that homeowners who buy property subject to a restrictive covenant regulating or prohibiting signs waive their constitutional right of free speech regarding sign displays.
Enforceability of Sign Regulations
A community association can only regulate signs if its recorded Declaration of Covenants includes provisions granting the association the right to do so. Most community association Declarations of Covenants contain provisions prohibiting or limiting the erection or placement of signs without approval from the board or architectural control committee. Based on the MBC Partners case, these provisions should be enforceable in courts, even concerning political signs.
Allowing Political Signs with a Neutral Sign Policy
While community associations have the right to prohibit signs, many boards may choose to allow political signs within certain limits. Boards can work with community association attorneys to establish a neutral political sign policy or regulation that includes:
- Limiting the size, number, and locations of signs
- Requiring professionally lettered signs
- Setting limits on the duration of sign displays
Such a policy can strike a balance between preserving the community’s appearance and allowing homeowners to respectfully express their support for a candidate