While signs and flags can be a great way to promote your favorite causes, not everyone will agree on these displays. Also, if you’re one of the 40 million people living in a managed community in the US, your Homeowner’s Association may have something to say about your expression.
HOA Policies on Signs
Many community associations want their residents to be able to display some signs and will work with the community and the Board of Directors to establish some basic guidelines. Homeowners Associations will typically have policies related to the size of the sign, where you can place the sign, and how long the sign can be displayed. Some HOAs will have additional regulations related to professionally-produced signs versus handmade signs (with more leeway granted to professionally produced signs). Other HOAs may require its residents to submit a request to the architectural control committee before placing a sign in the yard or on the house.
HOA Policies on Flags
Under the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act (2005), a Homeowner’s Association cannot prohibit homeowners from displaying the US flag on their property. This law also applies to condo and co-op associations. An HOA can, however, still implement specific rules as to how the US flag is displayed. According to the US Flag Code, residents can only display flags sunrise to sunset (unless illuminated), the flag must be taken down during bad weather (unless it’s an all-weather flag), the flag cannot touch the ground or be displayed in a way that damages it. The flag cannot be modified, and all worn-out flags must be appropriately destroyed.
A Homeowner’s Association does have the authority to restrict residents from displaying non-US flags, such as political flags or social justice flags. Recently, residents in Cobb County and Gwinnett County filed suit after their HOA requested the removal of Black Lives Matter and Pride flags. Many HOAs do have specific rules in place as to how long flags/banners can be displayed and how many flags residents can have on their property. HOAs will typically place restrictions on flags they consider “profane” or “disrespectful,” or flags that may be creating an obstruction or other safety hazard.
These community policies are designed so that residents can display support while maintaining an overall uniform appearance of the neighborhood. However, some may argue that any limitations would impose upon their freedom of speech.
First Amendment and Rights of Free Speech
So, if your HOA asks you to remove the sign or flag from your yard, is that a violation of your First Amendment right to free speech? The short answer is “no.” The First Amendment limits federal, state, and local governments from restricting political speech on private property. But Homeowners Associations are not government entities, and therefore, they aren’t bound by those rules.
If you own a home that’s part of an HOA, you have signed a contract and have legally agreed to follow the rules established by the HOA board. This is a binding contractual agreement. Since the Homeowners Association is based upon contractual agreements among its residents, the HOA is a private entity and is not subject to the freedom of speech clause.
Georgia Law on Flags and Yard Signs
Georgia courts have consistently upheld a Homeowners Association’s right to prohibit or place limits on flags and yard signs. Specifically, the Georgia Court of Appeals has ruled that when a homeowner purchases a property in a community that has restrictive covenants (such as regulations or limits on flags or signs), the homeowner agrees to be bound by that restrictive covenant. The homeowner waives their constitutional right of free speech regarding the display of political signs. It is lawful to waive a right granted by the US or Georgia constitution, as long as the covenant does not affect the public interest – the interests of those who live outside of the community. In other words, if someone moves into a community that has written regulations on flags or yard signs, the new resident is agreeing to follow those regulations. It’s not unlawful because the HOA is a private entity, and the HOA rules only affect that one specific community.
Have Additional Questions? Contact the Real Estate Team at Brian M. Douglas & Associates
Before you place a sign in your yard or hang a flag from your house, double-check your HOA rules. Your community may have provisions in place as to the items, where you can display them, and for how long. If you have additional questions about HOA communities or policies, please feel free to reach out to us at (770) 933-9009. We’d be happy to help.