Election 2020 is fast-approaching and that means our city council candidates need to capture the attention of voters. It is a battle waged in the pages of local newspapers and in mailboxes, of course, but increasingly on front lawns too. Campaign signs are the wildflowers of election season: first there’s a few, then many, and before you know it they’re all gone. The law allows tenants to display a sign but is ambiguous on whether a tenant can display a yard sign.
On March 3rd Beverly Hills voters will go to the polls to choose city council members for two available seats. Candidates are only too eager to (literally) stake their claim to your turf — that small bit of green that passes for lawn in multifamily areas. After seeing a couple of landlords plaster their multiple properties with one candidate’s yard sign we got to wondering: can tenants post campaign signs too? Yes, but with a caveat!
State Statute Gives Tenants a Voice
State law explicitly allows a tenant to post a yard sign for any cause or candidate. “A landlord shall not prohibit a tenant from posting or displaying political signs,” says the relevant bit from the Civil Code. Political speech is generally protected in the United States with the notable exception of the workplace. Rental housing is still free-speech territory, however, and a landlord cannot force a tenant to remove a legitimate campaign sign.
Political signs may be posted or displayed in the window or on the door of the premises leased by the tenant in a multifamily dwelling, or from the yard, window, door, balcony, or outside wall of the premises leased by a tenant of a single-family dwelling. - Civil Code § 1940.4
The caveat is that the protected campaign sign is not necessarily a yard sign! A tenant can speak for her own household, suggests the law, but speaking for the entire property would not find protection under state law.
Other conditions apply too. State law allows for a sign of no more than six square feet (864 square inches) and it must relate to a candidate in an election, or an initiative measure, or a pending vote on a matter of public interest by a commission or elected local body.
State law also allows a landlord to put a ‘reasonable’ time limit on the display of a campaign sign:
If no local ordinance exists or if the local ordinance does not include a time limit for posting and removing political signs on private property, the landlord may establish a reasonable time period for the posting and removal of political signs. A reasonable time period for this purpose shall begin at least 90 days prior to the date of the election or vote to which the sign relates and end at least 15 days following the date of the election or vote. - Civil Code § 1940.4
The statute says that additional regulations may apply at the local level. Often local regulations are more restrictive. Let’s see what the Beverly Hills Municipal code says about the matter.
Beverly Hills Campaign Sign Regulations
Signage in general is tightly regulated in Beverly Hills. Even apartment leasing signs and realtor’s signs are regulated and must be licensed by the city. What about those paper signs tacked to trees that talk about lost pets? Not lawful! No sign is too small to regulate.
But political speech is different, and the city endeavors to enact “minimal regulations regarding the posting, display, maintenance, and removal of yard signs.” However local regulations do apply because the city also wants to maintain the “aesthetic qualities of the city.”
“Yard signs tend to be impermanent, flimsy, and vulnerable to the elements,” observes Municipal Code section 10–4–806. “Because of the tendency of yard signs to proliferate, creating litter, visual blight, and traffic safety hazards, the council hereby adopts regulations….”
Yard signs are unlicensed however they are cheap and plentiful and so an enthusiastic supporter may go a bit overboard. To rein them in, the Hills Municipal Code limits yard signs to no more than five in any one residential yard and they may measure no more than 150 square inches (less than one-quarter the size of signs allowed by the state). In addition:
- Freestanding yard signs may not exceed four feet in height, measured from the ground;
- Yard signs cannot be placed on the parkways between the sidewalk and the curb;
- Yard signs must be removed within 10 days (5 fewer days than state law);
- A permit is required for the distribution of more than 10 signs.
Notably the city does not at all regulate window campaign signs; and the code is silent on the prospect of a tenant posting a yard sign in a multifamily area front yard.
What’s a Tenant to Do?
We encourage tenants to get active in this city council election and that includes voicing support for a favored candidate. That means posting a campaign sign in a street-facing window. We suggest you contact a campaign and request one or more signs without the metal stanchion.
Alternately, or in addition, stake your claim to the front yard of the apartment building. Chances are the landlord will not notice the yard sign(s) and may not even care. If the Apartment Association’s standard lease template makes no mention of a yard sign prohibition, chances are your lease doesn’t mention it either. If it’s not prohibited it can’t constitute a breach of the lease.
Contact the campaigns to inquire about window signs or yard signs:
Once you’ve posted a yard sign send a selfie to the campaign. They love it!