The Washington HOA Political Yard Sign Minefield
Election season has returned. Although, when is it not election season? This year’s presidential campaign promises to be one of the most contentious in living memory, and there are a number of state and local candidates and ballot measures that promise to be very divisive as well. Moreover, there are political issues that are critically important to our friends and neighbors, even if those issues are not directly on the ballot. Many owners will want to display signs in support of candidates, campaigns, or issues on their Lots, Units, or in their Limited Common Elements.
However, many declarations prohibit owners from displaying signs altogether. This can become a serious issue because of a provision in Washington State law that can affect (a) homeowners associations subject to the HOA Act, RCW 64.38, and (b) all common interest communities created after July 1, 2018, subject to the Washington Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act (WUCIOA).
First, RCW 64.38.034 states that a homeowners association’s governing documents:
[M]ay 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.
(Emphasis added). The term “political yard signs” is not defined by the statute, or any case law. Critically, it appears to be broader than simply signs that relate to a particular candidate or campaign, and may apply to any sign that relates to any arguably political issue. Regulating or prohibiting political speech is a very tricky subject, so before a board of directors of a Washington HOA, subject to the HOA Act, takes any action to draft the “reasonable rules and regulations” allowed by the statute, or to enforce against a sign, it should take extra care to ensure its proposed action complies with the HOA Act. If not, the board could open a constitutional Pandora’s Box that may have far-reaching consequences.
On the other hand, WUCIOA takes a much more narrow view on what is permitted. RCW 64.90.510(2) states: The association may not prohibit display of signs regarding candidates for public or association office, or ballot issues, on or within a unit or limited common element, but the association may adopt rules governing the time, place, size, number, and manner of those displays. (Emphasis added). Here, the law is narrowly tailored to candidates and ballot measures, and also provides reasonable rulemaking authority to the board with more direction than the HOA Act. However, a board can still get into hot water for unreasonably curtailing political speech.
If your association would like assistance with issues related to political signs or anything else, Barker Martin is ready to help