NJ Supreme Court: HOA Can’t Tell You To Remove Political Signs From House

As you may have heard, it’s a presidential election year, which means homeowners associations all around the country will be removing — and fining people for — political signs placed in residents’ front yards and windows. But the people of New Jersey are now free to announce their favorite candidates without fear of reprisal.

Earlier today, the Garden State’s Supreme Court issued a 5-1 ruling against an HOA that ordered a resident to take down campaign ads from his house. Per HOA rules, only “For Sale” signs are allowed.

But in the court’s ruling, it wrote that the rule barring political signs “has barred virtually all expressional activity.”

After weighing the HOA’s private property interest against the homeowner’s right to free expression, “we conclude that the sign policy in question violates the free speech clause of the State Constitution,” explained the court.

We wonder if the court’s ruling can also be extended to people who choose to raise the hackles of HOAs with rogue behavior like using colored Christmas lights.

N.J. Supreme Court: Homeowners group can’t order resident to remove political signs [NJ.com]

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  1. Blueskylaw says:

    “NJ Supreme Court: HOA Can’t Tell You To Remove Political Signs From House”

    NJ Supreme Court also ruled that ONLY political free speech is protected; other signs like offers to buy homes, tag sales, carnival signs, etc. are NOT protected.

    • Cat says:

      ONLY political free speech is protected, does this mean people could express their political views, or only signs touting the election of politicians?

      i suspect the latter (call me cynical)

      • Blueskylaw says:

        My posting was cynical. Just like the politicians made political robo-calling legal, they made every other form of robo-calling without a previous relationship illegal.

      • GrimJack says:

        That’s actually a good question. What if some psycho separatist decided to post his manifesto about how the government must be overthrown, abolished, etc, etc. on a billboard in his HOA-monitored yard? That’s political speech, right?

    • ARP says:

      Political speech or “pure speech” receives the highest level of protection, so there is a reason for it. Commercial and hate speech follow.

    • Costner says:

      Which annoys me greatly. In my city, the only legal signs are for sale signs and political signs. Everything else needs a permit (which nobody ever bothers to get), and even the “Open House” signs are only allowed to be up two days in advance of the actual open house.

      People can plaster political signs up on every corner and they can pack 300 of them in their front lawn and it is perfectly legal.

      I get a little sick of the politicians protecting their own interests while effectively banning everything else.

      I wonder what would happen if someone put up a sign that says “Iron Man for President” and then had an unrelated commercial message below it.

    • maxamus2 says:

      Yep, just like political cold calls are allowed, politicians get around the “no call” list.

  2. coffee100 says:

    They can also put American Flags up, and yes the law does apply to renters too.

    Ah, property rights. So nice to see them making a comeback.

    • FLConsumer says:

      Now if we can just get our personal rights back, it might be like the days we grew up with.

  3. Rocket80 says:

    These people signed a legally binding contract agreeing NOT to put up any signs other than For Sale signs, then cried to the government when they couldn’t put up political signs?

    Grow up – These people gave up their rights when they voluntarily signed that contract. No sympathy, I’m surprised they won.

    That being said – yet another reason I wouldn’t be caught dead living under an HOA, just another level of centralized bureaucracy controlling your life.

    • pgh9fan1 says:

      They signed a contract alright, but it wasn’t legally binding. In fact, quite the opposite.

    • Scoobatz says:

      I lived in an HOA neighborhood once (and never again). We weren’t even allowed to put up For Sale signs in the yard. They could only be placed in windows.

    • CityGuySailing says:

      You can not sign away constitutional rights. They are yours and not waivable except under very limited circumstances.

      • TheUncleBob says:

        I have a constitutional right to bear arms, does this mean I can carry a firearm with me where ever I go? Because the sign at the local store disagrees.

        • bluline says:

          Challenge the store rule in court and find out.

        • Velkyr says:

          That’s what I think about everytime someone says “bear” arms.

        • Difdi says:

          Signs don’t add or remove any rights or authority. A store manager without a sign is just as free to tell you he doesn’t allow guns in his store, as the manager with a 50 foot neon billboard stating the ban. Likewise, having a sign that states all departing customers are subject to a forcible strip search to prevent shrink doesn’t grant the store the right to actually carry out such a search.

          Laws override policies every time.

      • ARP says:

        Google “knowing and voluntary waiver” and get back to me. It’s well established in case law.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      Actually, they did sign a contract, but they decided that said contract violated their constitutional right to free speech, which is illegal. So, they did the right thing and took it to court, so the court could tell the HOA that putting it in a contract does in fact violate free speech rights. Signing a contract does not mean you give up your constitutional rights. Those rights are inherent by virtue of being an American citizen and cannot be legally taken from you.

      • Velkyr says:

        You realize the constitution only apply’s to the government right? State law’s/constitutions may be a little different as far as i know, but the U.S Constitution? Yeah, that only applys to the government.

        Example: You are working your minimum wage at walmart, and you are chatting about how great that new doritos taco thing is at taco bell. Your boss hates taco bell, so he forbids you from talking about taco bell and it’s products. That’s legal.

        Now, lets replace “walmert” with “federal courthouse”. Federal courthouse being a branch of the federal government. Well, if they tried that crap, they would be violating your first amendment rights.

        I explain this to people on facebook all the time after their accounts get banned for being too young or using fake names and claiming facebook is violating their first amendment rights (their words).

        • Doubting thomas says:

          That is not correct. Your boss cannot forbid from talking about Taco Bell. he cannot limit your speech in any manner. What he can do is make it an aspect of your employment. You have the perfect freedom to talk about tacos and he/she has the right to terminate you and hire someone that only talks about Pizza.
          Freedom of speech is freedom of speech. the Supreme court has ruled that States and local governments cannot make/enforce laws that violate the constitution.

        • sqlrob says:

          In many areas, HOAs are considered a level of government, below the city.

    • KyBash says:

      There are certain rights you can’t give up. Signing a contract that allows someone to shoot you in the head doesn’t absolve them from a murder charge.

      • partofme says:

        Obviously that’s true, but this is a very different thing. Let’s say, for example, that you sign a contract with a newspaper or broadcasting company. What you write or film is surely going to be published at the discretion of the editor. You gain access to a medium to disseminate your message, but agree to some infringement upon your rights to say whatever the hell you want to say.

        Of course, HOA contracts are also different from media outlets. However, I think this sheds a bit of light on why the bullet in the head analogy is a pretty bad one.

    • who? says:

      If the contract has provisions that are against the law, then one of two things happens. Either the entire contract is null and void, or the clause that’s against the law is null and void. It depends on how the contract is written.

      One of the neighborhoods we considered living in the last time we moved was one of the first HOA’s in the country. The HOA contract was written in the 1920’s, and it has clauses like “no non-caucasian people may stay overnight.” People who buy property still sign the contract, but since nearly every clause has been voided by current laws, they’re only held to the rules that are still legal today.

    • Sir Winston Thriller says:

      Even if you don’t sign the contract, you can be bound by it. We did not sign the HOA agreement when we bought the house in 2004. In 2011 the Vermont Leg. changed the law on HOAs, so that if you live within one, you’re bound by the CC&Rs and must pay back fees.

    • Sir Winston Thriller says:

      Even if you don’t sign the contract, you can be bound by it. We did not sign the HOA agreement when we bought the house in 2004. In 2011 the Vermont Leg. changed the law on HOAs, so that if you live within one, you’re bound by the CC&Rs and must pay back fees.

    • dpeters11 says:

      The other thing is, that this kind of thing can happen later on. If the HOA votes to ban something after you’ve moved there, you fall under that, whether you voted to approve it or not. So suing is your only option (other than rolling over and accepting it.)

    • Velifer says:

      You can’t make/enforce illegal or unconscionable contracts.
      …why is it so hard to spell “unconscionable?”

    • u1itn0w2day says:

      They changed their minds after signing the contract and challenged the clause after the fact. It’s not like they can challenge the contract before they buy. You have to have a stake in the game before you can play or challenge the rules.

    • HalOfBorg says:

      I agree %100, but you can not make a contract for an illegal thing – that makes the contract void. (AFAIK)

      In my country, you would be right.

    • kathygnome says:

      You can’t give up rights. They are inherent and inalienable.

    • Rachacha says:

      I own a property in an HOA and the by laws often contradict state or federal law, and whenever there is a conflict of rules or laws, the highest power wins.

      For example, my county has rules governing forbidding HOA restrictions on political signs, however my HOA has banned them. County laws win, and I am free to place political signs in my yard. My HOA also bans HAM radio and TV antennas, but federal law says that such bans are illegal, so I can install antennas on my property or home.

      Just because N HOA has a rule, does not mean that it is legal.

    • jimbo831 says:

      You are missing the point. The NJ Supreme Court just ruled that the contract is not legally binding. No contract can waive constitutional rights. The laws supersede any contract.

    • varro says:

      When a contract conflicts with a fundamental right, the contract loses.

      Otherwise, we’d still have enforceable racial covenants in deeds.

  4. shepd says:

    If you don’t want rules like this don’t live in an HOA.

    The only way HOAs will go away is when people see them for the power-hungry horrible places to live they are.

    • Necoras says:

      You realize that this isn’t always a choice? The city I live in requires that all new developments have an HOA. If you want a new/newer house, you will have an HOA.

      • shepd says:

        Don’t live in that city then, live in the one beside it.

        If all the cities in that area have HOAs, then you’ll have to decide if that job is worth giving up your enjoyment of life for. This happens every day when a rural resident gets a great job in a large city. All of a sudden the only choice is to rent an apartment, or become an instant millionaire (and even then you are buying a condo, so you have a condo board).

        The truth is, while you’ve managed to find a city with only HOAs, I’ve never found a city with a requirement for HOAs, other than yours. So there are giant, vast swaths of land where you can own a home, HOA free, and there’s plenty of work there too.

  5. CanadianDominic says:

    Say hello to my 40 foot “VOTE FOR WHOEVER” flashing neon sign, local HOA!

  6. Harry Greek says:

    Why do people subject themselves to a HOA situation?

    • BennieHannah says:

      Because in many places if your neighborhood includes commonly owned properties (landscaped islands, a park, entrance landscaping, bordering fences, communal mailboxes…) there MUST be an HOA established so that appropriate taxes are paid and liability insurance is in place.

      I many areas, it is NOT easy to avoid having an HOA. In my adult life, I’ve never lived in an area that didn’t have one. Thankfully, I don’t have any HOA horror stories, but then I’ve mostly lived in small neighborhoods where everyone knows one another. In our current neighborhood a lot of the minor rules are consistently broken — we have a utility trailer in our driveway, several people have boats in full display and the guy across the street has an RV in his. (He’s the HOA president and a helluva partier!) So not every HOA, or even most HOAs, are nightmarish.

      • Lyn Torden says:

        It is possible for an HOA to act as a CAA. Or it can just be a CAA. A friend of mine used to live in a neighborhood with a CAA only. They took care of all the commons areas and established the rules for the commons areas. Nothing applied to the individual property areas.

      • sk1d says:

        Why doesn’t the city/county take care of that?

        • stevenpdx says:

          Because the city/county/state does not maintain private property?

        • etcalledme says:

          Also, in some places the city/county sucks at doing these things. The main reason my parents live in a neighborhood with a HOA because it has a private well/water supply. There have been issues in the past with water contamination (feces/fertilizer in the water up) to the point where the city has had to shut off the water to all residents for several days while they get these things fixed/decontaminated. The HOA also provides recycling pick-up with the trash service they have, the city does not.

          That being said, the only thing the HOA in their neighborhood really cares about is how many/what kind of animals people have. The neighborhood is in a somewhat-rural area that has no city/county restrictions on the number of animals on the property and the HOA doesn’t want people turning their homes into ranches/farms (cuz that’s why the city water keeps getting nasty shit in it!). Chickens are ok as long as they’re in some sort of enclosure, no mammalian livestock other than horses (limit 2 horses per house), and no more than 3 of any combination of dogs and cats (2 cats and a dog is ok, but 3 cats and a dog is technically not not). That last bit isn’t strictly enforced though, it’s mainly there to prevent people from starting puppy/kitten mills.

    • StarKillerX says:

      See here’s the thing, people are all for HOA regulating things what OTHER PEOPLE DO, they simply don’t want it to effect their own actions.

      it’s just like politicians opposing robo-calls, unless it’s from their campaign.

  7. partofme says:

    I don’t know much about NJ’s State Constitution, but this seems to be a feature which is different from the US Constitution. Their text reads,

    Every person may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right.

    Perhaps it is just sloppy writing, but this seems to stand alone, separate from the more familiar next sentence,

    No law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.

    The US Constitution certainly contains an analog to the latter, but not the former. I don’t know what the history of NJ case law is on the former statement, but it certainly seems like it would turn on their interpretation of “..being responsible for the abuse of that right.”

    • KennyS says:

      “It is my sentiment thaat you come to my garage sale this weekend from 9 to 5.”

      • partofme says:

        I’m 100% sure I’m missing a reference here, but I would be a great fixture at a garage sale! For $10, I will debate anyone, on any topic, for fifteen minutes. The only thing I will assure you is that you’ll have a new idea to mull over after your fifteen minutes are up!

    • ARP says:

      Interesting- that’s somewhat different than the traditional government restraint of speech. So, it could apply to private agreements (like this one). Could be a Pandora’s Box.

    • JustMe2011 says:

      Maybe everyone’s just following Obama’s administration and pretending that Constitutions don’t exist.

      • ARP says:

        Name all the Unconstitutional stuff Obama is doing that wasn’t started by others. So far, the candidates are the questionable absentee appointment. HCR was passed by congress, so that’s only partially him. What else? I’m happy to give you the list of things that Bush did (e.g. signing statements, warrentless wiretapping, torture, false claims of Executive Privilege, etc.). Were you just as loose with the Unconstitutional moniker with him?

  8. Moniker Preferred says:

    Ah, New Joysie.

    Nothing like taking one of the terms of a contract between two parties and shredding it.

    If you didn’t agree to the terms, you shouldn’t have signed the contract.

    • Emperor Norton I says:

      So, according to you, if two parties enter into a contract that calls for the loser to be executed, no court could void it?
      Or contracts that require one party to agree to a confession of judgment?
      Not all contract provisions are legal or constitutional.

    • benminer says:

      A fundamental prong to determine the validity of a contract is legality. A contract that binds an actor to an illegal action is on its face unenforceable. This is Contract Law 101.

    • benminer says:

      A fundamental prong to determine the validity of a contract is legality. A contract that binds an actor to an illegal action is on its face unenforceable. This is Contract Law 101.

    • DrPizza says:

      Also, don’t forget that HOA rules aren’t static. Some HOAs add rules fairly frequently. Thus, the original signed contract may not have stopped political advertising.

  9. Joesph Mama says:

    ‘”Per HOA rules, only “For Sale” signs are allowed.””

    Since politicians are all for sale anyway, doesnt this already cover political signs?

  10. frankrizzo:You're locked up in here with me. says:

    So can they write “VOTE FOR PEDRO” on the pavement with chalk?

  11. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    //rogue behavior like using colored Christmas lights. //
    As long as the lights have candidates’ names hanging from them, they are protected.

  12. Bionic Data Drop says:

    Political robocalls are also exempt from the Do Not Call registry. It’s not hard to figure out that “rules are rules” unless someone is campaigning.

  13. soj4life says:

    There are HOAs in jersey? I thought we had towns and other real municipal entities to stop this nonsense.