It’s almost election time again.
The November Presidential election may result in more and more homeowners attempting to post political signs to express their opinions on which candidate should be elected into office. As a community association, it is important to understand what you can and cannot regulate in the posting of political signs.
Many community associations have covenants that restrict signage in some manner. Most of these restrictions deal with placement, size, type, etc. The most popular example will prohibit signs in their entirety but allow for one “For Sale” sign for any home that is listed for sale on the real estate market. What these types of provisions do is completely limit any other type of sign. While this may be effective to limit any other type of sign, the Indiana Legislature determined that community associations cannot limit the display of political signs during election time. The result was Indiana Code 32-21-13. The Indiana Code indicates that any restrictive covenant or rule adopted by an association that prohibits signs, will not apply to the display of political signs on the property.
The types of signs that are permitted under the statute are signs that advocate for the election or defeat of one or more candidate(s) up for nomination or up for election to public office. Signs that support or oppose a political party or a political party’s candidate, or signs that show approval or disapproval of a public question are permitted. (IC 32-21-13-3). Examples of a public question are items like school levies, referendums, or other items placed on the ballot for election by the public that does not involve picking a candidate for public office.
The statute indicates that the Association must allow the posting of political signs on the member’s property a minimum of thirty (30) days prior to an election. It also states that associations must allow political signs to remain at least five (5) days after the election. (IC 32-21-13-4) These are the minimum requirements; if the association chooses to adopt rules allowing signs to be posted for longer periods of time before and after the election, it is free to do so. The association cannot require a shorter time period otherwise it will be in violation of the statute.
What can the association regulate? The association is permitted to adopt and enforce rules as long as those rules are limited to the following types of restrictions.
- Restrictions on size of the sign. The minimum size of the signs allowed under the statute are those signs that are commonly displayed during election campaigns.
- Restrictions on the number of signs that can be placed on the property. The association may limit the number of signs provided that the number allowed is reasonable.
- Restrictions on the location of the signs. Any rule or covenant must allow the owner to post a sign in the owner’s window or on the ground that is part of the homeowner’s property.
Luckily, if a homeowner violates the time frame for posting signs or other rules adopted by the Association, the statute provides a remedy to the Association. The statute specifically states, “A homeowners association may remove a sign that violates the rules permitted by this Chapter.” (Indiana Code 32-21-13-6).
The permitted types of rules raise additional questions that an association must deal with. For instance, what is a reasonable number of political signs? What is reasonable in one community may not be reasonable in another. This is a somewhat subjective standard. Another issue is the size component. The language that states that a homeowner may display a sign that “is at least as large as signs commonly displayed during election campaigns” is also problematic. There are signs as large as billboards available for campaigns. If the Association wants to limit the size or the number of signs, it is important to have adopted rules in place so homeowners know what is expected and what is permitted.
Associations must also be aware that the statute allows for political activity within the community, unless the community is gated or the roads are all privately owned and maintained. This means that candidates, elected officials, or volunteers working for the candidate may canvass the neighborhood to talk about the candidates and solicit votes if the community is not gated and the streets are public roadways.