Can HOAs limit the display of political signs?
With an election year upon us, we’re again getting inquiries from our HOA clients on what, if anything, they can do to limit the size or number of political campaign signs owners can put on their property. The answer depends on several factors, one of which is what the local municipal ordinances have to say about political signs, which can vary among different towns and cities. Several years ago, the North Carolina Planned Community and Condominium Acts were amended to add sections directly addressing the display of flags and political signs by homeowners. The goal of these amendments was to protect homeowners’ right to display USA and NC flags and political signs, within reasonable limits, by limiting the extent to which HOAs can restrict them. Unfortunately, the rules are very convoluted and difficult to decipher. To summarize, if a community was formed prior to October 1, 2005, the HOA can limit the display of political signs, but only if the governing documents (the Declaration of CCRs or Declaration of Condominium) specifically allow the HOA to do so, and the restrictions specifically use the term “political signs” (as opposed to signs in general). If the community was formed after October 1, 2005, the same rule applies, but with the additional requirement that the first page of the Declaration state on the first page in bold, capitalized letters: “THIS DOCUMENT REGULATES OR PROHIBITS THE DISPLAY OF POLITICAL SIGNS.” See N.C.G.S. § 47F-3-121 and N.C.G.S. § 47C-3-121 (for condominiums). Even when political signs are permitted under the above statutes, an HOA “(i) may prohibit the display of political signs earlier than 45 days before the day of the election and later than seven days after an election day, and (ii) may regulate the size and number of political signs that may be placed on a member’s property if the association’s regulation is no more restrictive than any applicable city, town, or county ordinance that regulates the size and number of political signs on residential property.” Thus, we must look to local ordinances to determine what restrictions the HOA can impose. The City of Charlotte does have such ordinances. For communities that have language in their Declaration that restricts political signs, and which are located within the Charlotte city limits, the bottom line is this: 1. The HOA can prohibit political signs larger than 16 square feet. 2. The HOA can restrict the display of political signs to no more than 45 days before, and 7 days after the election. 3. The HOA cannot restrict the number of signs than an owner places in his or her yard. 4. The HOA can prohibit the display of political signs on any common area in the community, not owned by an individual homeowner. Because of the confusing language in the statutes referenced above, it is not clear whether HOAs with no restrictions on political signs in their declaration can limit the display of political signs, and there is no consensus among my fellow HOA lawyers on this issue. The rules will vary depending on the exact language in each community’s governing documents, the date those documents were recorded, and the existence of local ordinances governing political signs. This column was originally published in the Charlotte Observer on April 30, 2016. © All rights reserved.