With the 2020 presidential election less than three months away, I had an interesting question hit my desk: can a property management company restrict residents from placing political signs on their exterior windows, doors, and/or balconies? With some exceptions (noted below), the answer looks to generally be yes. Now, of course residents have First Amendment rights and leasing offices are not trying to take those away – unless the resident has agreed to a provision in the lease (or community policies made a part of the lease) which prohibits signs of any type. Management also should avoid prohibiting signs for candidates in one political party while permitting signs for candidates in another political party.

Available law and guidance out there seems to be that while a resident may have a First Amendment right to put up a political sign (with some reasonable restrictions related to size and timing), those rights can be limited by language in a lease (or in community policies which are made a part of the lease) in which the management company restricts signs of all types/sides. For example, in this election cycle, it would be problematic for a leasing office to permit Biden signs but restrict Trump signs. I also reviewed some commentary intimating that if you attempt to restrict signs related to a particular concern (such as Black Lives Matter) you could unintentionally walk yourself into a fair housing disparate impact claim as a large percentage of a protected class might be negatively impacted by such a prohibition. Because there is always an exception, it looks like California passed a statute in around 2012 which specifically allows political signs — notwithstanding what may be in a residential lease. There are limits in the law about how big the sign can be and how long it can stay up after the election. I have not done a 50 state survey and it would make sense to have a lawyer like me check the law in your specific jurisdiction.

Accordingly, If you wish to avoid getting in the middle of elections or political causes at your multi-family property (and to be clear, there is no requirement for you to do so), a best practice could be to include a provision in your lease prohibiting all signs (and having all residents agree to that policy at move in or at lease renewal time), courts will generally enforce it. It is less clear if there is no restriction in the lease.

Just A Thought.