Political Signs in NC & SC Associations
With a month to go before a major political election, questions about political signs are rolling in. Can we do something about political signs on association property? How many signs can an owner have in his yard? Can the association remove signs from a homeowner’s yard?
One reason we get so many questions about political signs is that North Carolina has one of the most complicated sign statutes in the country. (South Carolina has no such statute). Adopted in 2005, the NC statute provides different authority for community associations based on when the association was created. And regardless of date, associations must have some language in the restrictions to regulate or prohibit political signs on a homeowner’s property. Then, even if such language isn’t sufficient, associations are given limited authority over signs immediately before and after elections. Because of this menu of options, the specific answer to any specific political sign question may vary depending on the type of association, age of the association, language in the governing documents, location of the political sign, number of signs, size of the sign, and timing of the sign in regards to the election. We have other resources on our website on the regulation of political signs, but here are a few basic takeaways based on having dealt with many political sign questions. Without question this Q&A is not legal advice for any specific circumstance, and specific questions should be directed to an attorney at our firm.
Can the association remove political signs from association property?
Almost certainly. Statutes dealing with political signs are focused on homeowner property, not common elements. Common property is controlled by the association, and a board generally has the authority to remove political signs placed around an association entrance, in parks, at a clubhouse, pool–anything that is part of the common elements.
How can the association deal with a politically passionate homeowner?
If you have owners with either a significant number or billboard sized political signs in their yards, the easiest first approach is to see if there is a city ordinance governing political signs. Many North and South Carolina municipalities have signage regulations, that specifically address political signs. Such ordinances differ, but most impose a limit on the total number of permitted signs, the size of signs, and the length of time political signs can remain on a property. An advantage of city ordinance is that the association (or any member) can simply notify the city of the violation, which should then address the situation. An association has no responsibility to enforce city regulations.
What if there is no city ordinance regulating signs or it does not address our particular problem?
As mentioned above, North Carolina has a specific statute governing political signs in homeowner and condominium associations. South Carolina has no such statute, so you would look to the association’s governing documents. In North Carolina, any pre-October 1, 2005 association should have in its restrictions the actual phrase “political sign,” and any association created on or after October 1, 2005 should have on the first page of its restriction the actual sentence: “THIS DOCUMENT REGULATES OR PROHIBITS THE DISPLAY OF POLITICAL SIGNS.” If there is no such language, it is time to get an attorney involved for a more thorough review of the governing documents and state statute.
Can the association remove the political signs of a homeowner in violation of sign regulations?
Probably not. Unless there is very clear and strong language in the filed documents, associations should not “fix” problems on an owner’s lot or unit. Instead, the language of statutes and governing documents must be followed. In North Carolina, for instance, a political sign violation would be handled like other community association violations, which means a notice of the violation to the owner, a violation hearing, a decision regarding the violation, and, in the event of a violation, a possible fine for past occurrences and a daily fine if the violation remains. Also, community privileges or services may be suspended for reasonable periods during the violation.
Leaders in the Law Recognition
This past week I was recognized along with our firm by NC Lawyers Weekly as a 2016 Leaders in the Law Honoree. The formal event in Raleigh honored legal professionals who have gone above and beyond in their profession and community.