As we all know, there is a presidential election right around the corner. Whenever an election is near, the same question always comes up: can a homeowners association (“HOA”) prohibit or limit political yard signs in a homeowners’ yard?
In Washington, most HOAs are governed by RCW Chapter 64.38.* An HOA may not have in its governing documents a blanket prohibition on political yard signs in the yards of individual homeowners. RCW 64.38.034(1) reads:
The governing documents may not prohibit the outdoor display of political yard signs by an owner or resident on the owner’s or resident’s property before any primary or general election. The governing documents may include reasonable rules and regulations regarding the placement and manner of display of political yard signs.
So, an outright prohibition is not permitted, but some limitations are. Examples of reasonable limitations would be: restricting the total number of signs (e.g., 3 maximum) or the number of signs per candidate or issue (e.g., 1 per candidate/issue); restricting the size of each sign (e.g., no larger than the standard 18″ x 24″ yard sign); and, limiting the length of time the signs may be on display (e.g., 4 or 6 weeks before election day and taken down within 7 days after election day). These restrictions must be in writing, so an HOA wishing to implement restrictions needs to at least pass a rule incorporating the restrictions. Having the restrictions in the CC&Rs is another option, although amending CC&Rs is typically more difficult than issuing a new rule.
If an HOA’s CC&Rs or rules have blanket prohibitions on political yard signs, those provisions are unenforceable. HOA officers and directors are also wise to avoid attempting to apply a limitation based on the content of any political yard sign – i.e., HOAs may not pick sides in political races. On that note, HOAs may (and should) prohibit political yard signs in common areas – placing political signs in common areas (or allowing others to do so) can create the impression that the HOA has picked a side, which is outside of the powers and purpose of the HOA.
An HOA officer or director who removes a political yard sign under an unenforceable ban may be committing a crime. RCW 29A.84.040 states:
A person who removes or defaces lawfully placed political advertising including yard signs or billboards without authorization is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable to the same extent as a misdemeanor that is punishable under RCW 9A.20.021. The defacement or removal of each item constitutes a separate violation.
HOAs are advised to tread very carefully when it comes to removing any kind of political yard signs.
*Condominiums formed prior to 1993 are governed by RCW Chapter 64.32. Condominiums formed between 1993 and 2018 are governed by RCW Chapter 64.34. Condominiums and HOAs formed July 1, 2018 or later are governed by RCW Chapter 64.90. None of these chapters contains a specific provision regarding political yard signs. Officers and directors of these other types of HOAs are advised to act as if RCW 64.38.034 applied to them and follow the guidelines above.