Article Courtesy of The
Daily Business Review
By Alessandra Stivelman and
Carolina Sznajderman Sheir
Published October 9, 2020
Political polarization in 2020 has reached a COVID-fevered pitch, ignited by
shadowy entities of all kinds fueling a whole lot of anger. As if things
weren’t volatile enough, it’s now election season in Florida, which boasts
more community associations than any other state in America.
When we really believe in something, many of us feel a gut-level need to
make a difference. Make a statement. Contribute. So, sinking that yard sign
stake into the pliant ground of our own property on behalf of a candidate or
a cause feels like a gauntlet we’ve thrown down to the world. With that one
action, we become invested and committed, bolstered by the force of our own
hands under the mantle of property ownership. It’s a simple, yet powerful
and exhilarating cocktail of purposefulness.
It’s no surprise, then, that tempers flare even under normal circumstances
when Florida community associations remind their homeowners to refrain from
planting signs of any kind, or worse, remove the signs they’ve already
posted. Not unexpectedly, this season may be especially volatile in terms of
the perennial homeowners’ association (HOA) sign complaints, notwithstanding
a year in which neighbors’ inflammatory politics may be brazenly displayed
through symbols or pictures having no overt campaign message whatsoever.
While the First Amendment protects free speech, sometimes it does not apply.
If displaying signs on your property is something important to you, it might
be a good idea to check those HOA covenant documents before you purchase
your home. Community associations are regulated on a state-by-state basis,
so they differ significantly in what they allow—signs or otherwise—as does
case law in their respective jurisdictions. On the day-to-day level, types
of restrictions can change as rapidly as association boards do.
The underlying principle that associations are private and not actually a
“government entity” (although they can sometimes feel like one) means
federal protections pertaining to free speech may not necessarily apply
within the boundaries of an HOA. When you purchase a home inside of an HOA,
you are agreeing to the association’s governing documents in the same manner
as when you execute a contract. Accordingly, the purchase of home is subject
to recorded restrictions, which may limit your First Amendment rights.
Courts generally uphold the association’s authority to restrict or ban free
speech, including signs, placed within a particular community if the
association has the authority in the recorded documents to do so and there
are no statutory restrictions to the contrary.
Further, community associations are not deemed to be a “state actor” by most
states (meaning they are not considered to be legally acting on behalf of
their state), so legislatures have been traditionally unwilling to enact
laws governing their ability to restrict free speech.
Many associations either do not allow signs or place significant
restrictions on them, usually to avoid creating controversy among neighbors,
but mostly for the humdrum reason that regulating signage takes time,
manpower and money to pay an attorney for his or her opinion on how whether
a sign may be placed in a particular area, for what duration, their size,
allowable content, etc. Even if signs are permitted under heavy restriction,
someone must be assigned to monitor the signs, assess them and determine
whether same comply with the restrictions. Given all that and the likelihood
of differing opinions and exceptions prompting litigation, it’s often easier
just to ban all types of signs for everyone altogether.
Notwithstanding restrictions in recorded documents, Florida law does provide
for community association residents’ display of official American flags, the
official flags of the United States’ armed forces, and an official POW-MIA
flag. Condo dwellers are also statutorily allowed to display a mezuzah in
their doorway. The right to display same cannot be taken away by virtue of a
restriction in the governing documents or by a rule enacted by the board of
Beyond that, be mindful that any signage, including political signage, may
be subject to any restrictions in your community association or condo’s
With so much current turmoil, hoping for tolerance may be laudable, but your
self-quarantined neighbor who hasn’t left the house in five months may see
your sign, statue or yard decoration as just the right opportunity to let
off some steam. So, if your community has no stated restrictions (unlikely),
checking with your association manager remains the best policy before you
decide to display anything at all.