By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Take note residents of Missouri: Just in time for midterm elections, the state has a new law that makes it illegal for your homeowners’ association to ban political signs from your yard.
House Bill 1887 was passed by the General Assembly and signed by former Governor Eric Greitens on June 1, 2018.
Key facts about Missouri’s new campaign sign law:
- The good news: Missouri law prohibits total bans on political signs placed on private property (not common property) in Missouri planned communities governed by homeowners’ associations.
- Note that the new law does not apply to condominium associations or housing cooperatives.
- Going to the root of the issue, Missouri law also states that Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs) or “deed restrictions” cannot have the effect of prohibiting political signs. So even if there’s no HOA to enforce the rules, restrictions that outright ban political signs are unenforceable.
- “Political sign” is specifically defined as “any fixed, ground-mounted display in support of or in opposition to a person seeking elected office or a ballot measure excluding any materials that may be attached.” Missouri law does not apply to signs displayed in windows, fastened to poles or trees, hanging from the railing of a fence or front porch, etc.
- Additionally, your HOA can still prohibit the attachment of balloons, streamers, and audio devices to political signs. In other words, the HOA does not have to allow certain sign displays that may be distracting or downright annoying to neighbors.
- Your HOA is permitted by law to adopt “reasonable rules” governing the “time, size, place, number, and manner of display of political signs.” In other words, Missouri law provides many of the usual loopholes for HOAs to restrict display of signs, while not technically breaking the law. The million dollar question: how will your HOA define “reasonable rules?”
- Your HOA is not prohibited from removing a sign that breaks rules or local ordinances, but it must provide you with a written notice and give you three days to comply with the rules. If you choose not to comply, the HOA can remove your sign(s) and impose a monetary fine.
- Fortunately for Missouri residents, in contrast to Texas’ political sign law, Missouri law does not allow the HOA to restrict or remove signs they may deem to be “offensive.” That’s a good thing.
Read Missouri HB1887:
States provide different First Amendment protections for residents of association-governed communities
It’s important for IAC readers to understand that there’s still considerable legal debate about whether or not HOAs, as private organizations, must adhere to First Amendment (free speech) protections of the U.S. Constitution.
The Freedom Forum Institute provides a brief summary of U.S. case law on the subject in the following article. The excerpt below highlights the fact that some state Constitutions provide a broader range of free expression protections than federal law. As a result, a resident’s right to post political signs on their private property will vary from state to state.
According to the Freedom Forum Institute, Washington, D.C.
…government restrictions on political campaign signs are problematical under the First Amendment. However, homeowner/condo-association restrictions on yard or window signs may very well not raise a valid constitutional-law issue unless there is a very close nexus, or connection, to a government entity.
A caveat to this general First Amendment principle is that state courts are free to interpret the free-expression provisions in their state constitutions more broadly than the federal courts interpret the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Some legal experts insist that HOAs are not state actors, and therefore they believe that, as I like to say, The Bill of Rights Need Not Apply to HOAs.
But a growing number of courts are rethinking the status of HOAs as private, nongovernmental organizations. After all, association-governed communities are hard to avoid, and they now provide dozens of community services that were once provided by local governments.
The old argument that HOAs are nothing more than private organizations isn’t as convincing as it once was. And, as evidenced by recent case law, more and more residents are making legal challenges on Constitutional grounds, with the courts ruling in favor or free speech.
Missouri (and Texas) are two more states following a national trend toward greater protection of First Amendment rights for residents of HOAs.
Change is hard for some Missouri HOA residents
Unfortunately, some Missourians aren’t too happy about allowing their neighbors to put up campaign signs in their front yards. KOMU reports that one unnamed HOA president doesn’t approve of such “political garbage.”
Interesting that the HOA president wasn’t named, isn’t it?
And, according to the report, it seems that one unidentified HOA cannot wait to make up some rules and restrictions on political signs. Of course, we all know where that leads. More neighborhood disputes and the use of HOA fines to punish non-conforming homeowners into submission.
And the industry calls HOAs democratic? Who are they kidding?
Law allowing political signs surprises some Columbia homeowners
Posted on 10 October 2018 at 7:24pm
KOMU 8 News
COLUMBIA – Some Columbia homeowners living in neighborhoods with a homeowners’ association said they were unaware of the recent law that prohibits bans on political yard signs.
Bob Minner said he didn’t know this law existed and he plans to contact his homeowners’ association soon.
“People should be able to show political views and support candidates,” he said.
Susan Currier said she wasn’t aware political signs are now allowed in her neighborhood. She said she hadn’t received any information from her homeowners’ association’s leadership about the law.
The president of one homeowners’ association told KOMU 8 it’s up to each association to place restrictions on when and how long a resident can display a political sign in his or her yard, but it cannot completely ban the sign. He said he liked the earlier ban, because it kept the “political garbage” out of his neighborhood.
The law overturning the ban was signed by the governor in June and went into effect in August. Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, sponsored the measure and told KOMU 8 News it all comes down to First Amendment rights.
Read more (video):
Political battle lines drawn
The Columbia Missourian reports some ugliness in neighborhoods of the 50th District. In those HOAs, as soon as some residents put up their campaign signs for their favored candidate, someone sneaks onto their property in the dark of night to remove and destroy their political signs.
Also as reported, trespassing on private property to destroy a campaign sign is against the law, punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and one year in jail.
But first, the scoundrels who hate free speech must be caught in the act.
My favorite part of this report is the quote from law professor Sandy Davidson of Missouri University, noting that the new law makes it clear that private contracts cannot restrict fundamental rights of individuals.
Yes! A refreshing breath of common sense. Who in their right mind actually thinks they “agree” to give up First Amendment rights by moving into an association-governed community?
Indeed, it should be the law of the land in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territories:
No private housing contract shall take away Constitutional rights of individual Americans, regardless of where they happen to live.
New weapon in campaign sign battle: neighborhoods can’t ban them
BY HAOYI JIANG Oct 19, 2018
If your homeowners association says you can’t put campaign signs in your yard, you can now say ‘no’ to them.
The General Assembly passed a law earlier this year that homeowners associations cannot prohibit political signs. However, it seems that not everyone knows about the new rules.
Audrey Shah, a supporter of 50th district Democratic candidate Michela Skelton, had a sign in the yard. She was told in a note from a neighbor left in her mailbox that it wasn’t allowed.
Skelton said it is not the only complaint she’s received. She also got a call from a woman, who didn’t identify herself, telling her that Skelton was breaking down civility in their neighborhood by giving signs to the supporters to put in their yards.
“I tried to tell her that a state law was passed that allows political signs in the yards,” said Skelton, “but she was so very upset.”
Leaving a note and calling candidates is very polite compared with some other behaviors. Multiple candidates reported having their signs vandalized or stolen.
Sandy Davidson, a law professor at MU, said damaging others’ campaign signs could involve breaking several laws.
“Any time anybody trespasses onto your property to damage any of your property,” Davidson said, “whether it’s a sign, or your bicycle, the dog — that’s a criminal offense.”
In addition, stealing or willfully defacing, mutilating, or destroying any campaign yard sign on private property is a class four election offense, which shall be punished by imprisonment of not more than one year or by a fine of not more than two thousand five hundred dollars or both, according to Missouri statute.
As for the law about homeowners associations, Davidson said the Supreme Court has spoken on why the government can’t restrict residential signs back to 1994. This law is an extension of that, in a way.
“This extension would say nor can private contracts restrict a person from exercising a very fundamental right,” Davidson said.
Read full article: