By Candace E. Johnson and Stephen G. Davis
October 24, 2018
As Americans, we cherish our First Amendment rights – chiefly among them, our freedoms of speech and expression. In November, for many that includes the freedom to express their political beliefs. As recent news stories have shown us, homeowners are willing to go to great lengths to express themselves, especially when they feel their rights are being suppressed. For example, see this recent article from Newsweek: https://www.newsweek.com/texas-homeowner-association-family-beto-sign-1179929
If you serve on the Board of your Homeowners Association, you might be asking yourself, or holding emergency meetings trying to determine, where is the line between maintaining community standards and uniformity without trampling on owners’ fundamental rights?
Missouri courts have addressed the issue of Homeowners Associations restricting owners from displaying political signs. Courts have held that prohibiting all political signs is an unreasonable restriction on free speech. However, an Association may adopt restrictions as long as they are reasonable as to time, place, and manner and serve its interests.
The Missouri legislature recently stepped in to provide additional statutory guidance. Section 442.404 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, effective August 28, 2018, addresses political signs in Homeowners Associations (but curiously does not address Condominium Associations governed by Section 448). Among other terms, it states that a Homeowners Association may not have a deed restriction, covenant or other similar agreement running with the land that prohibits or has the effect of prohibiting political signs. A political sign is defined as a 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.
However, this statute also allows Homeowners Associations to adopt reasonable rules, subject to any applicable statutes or ordinances, regarding the time, size, place, number, and manner of display of political signs. In addition, a Homeowners Association may remove a political sign without liability if such sign:
- is placed within the common ground,
- threatens the public health or safety,
- violates an applicable statute or ordinance,
- is accompanied by sound or music, or
- if any other materials are attached to the political sign.
Prior to the Homeowners Association removing a political sign from an owner’s property or imposing any fine or penalty against the offending owner, the Association must first give the owner three days after providing written notice to remove the sign on their own. The notice must specifically identify the rule and the nature of the violation.
Bottom line, like the case law before it, Missouri statute now specifically allows Homeowners Associations to adopt reasonable rules regarding the time, size, place, number, and manner of display of political signs. To avoid liability, the board should enforce any such rule uniformly against all owners, regardless of political belief. Before passing any rules, including rules related to political signs, your Association should consult an attorney specializing in Homeowner and Condominium Association law to ensure compliance with the foregoing requirements.
Stephen Davis and Candace Johnson are members of Carmody MacDonald’s Homeowner and Condominium Association team which provides a full range of client services to homeowner and condominium associations and cooperatives throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area, in both Missouri and Illinois. Our team has the experience and depth of resources to provide high quality and affordable representation for your Association. To schedule a consultation, please contact us.
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