How far is too far? As we approach another election season, you may begin seeing political signage, advertisements, or even receive requests to use association property for political events. Associations should tread with caution when considering restrictions involving these activities.
Boards of directors are responsible for many duties with respect to governing the association, and often have the difficult task of working to maintain the peace. One way a board may believe it can maintain peace is by prohibiting political signage throughout the association or limiting political activities in the common areas. While the board is charged with enforcing the use restrictions within the governing documents, the law is explicit that certain political activities are allowed in an association’s common area.
With elections fast approaching, some association members may be excited to display their political preferences or choices for election, and a board may be tempted to apply signage rules to members. However, Civil Code § 4710 specifically protects members from blanket prohibitions on political signs, banners, or posters on their separate interest property. The statute does allow for some reasonable restrictions to be enforced, which may include limitations on size and materials, as well as reasonable restrictions surrounding vulgarity or profanity.
In addition to signage, some association members may wish to peacefully assemble or gather to discuss political issues. California Civil Code § 4515 was recently enacted with the intent of allowing members and residents of common interest developments the ability to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and to freely communicate regarding common interest development living or for social, political, or educational purposes. The Civil Code prohibits associations from prohibiting members from peacefully assembling with other members or guests related to common interest development living, as well as with regard to legislation, public office elections and other political processes. Members may invite public officials, candidates, or representatives to speak on matters related to these topics, and further protects their right to use the common area for these assemblies or meetings, which includes clubhouses, parks, recreation rooms, and other common areas. Importantly, the member cannot be charged a fee for this use, even if fees are otherwise required by the governing documents. Canvassing and petitioning the homeowners regarding the above topics is also protected, so long as it is done during reasonable hours and in a reasonable manner.
While the board and association must allow many of these activities, the board can take steps to reasonably restrict the manner in which the common areas are used. Provisions in the Civil Code allow boards to restrict these activities to reasonable hours and require activities to be conducted in a reasonable manner. The time and manner restrictions should be applied equally amongst all activities and cannot be created solely to limit political activity in an association’s common area. Notably, under Section 4515(c) the association cannot require members to “pay a fee, make a deposit, obtain liability insurance, or pay the premium or deductible on the association’s insurance policy” as conditions to use an association’s common area for political activities.
Should board restrict a member’s right to use an association common area for protected political purposes, the association could be liable for civil penalties of up to five hundred dollars ($500) for each violation. We therefore recommend associations enact reasonable restrictions and regulations for these activities, in accordance with the Civil Code, before an issue arises. If your association is interested in proactively adopting guidelines, or is faced with a question or request regarding political activities, please do not hesitate to contact us for guidance at firstname.lastname@example.org.