Landlords beware, California law that Protects Tenants’ Political Signage.

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2016 is a presidential election year and the political arena is heating up rapidly just about everywhere across the country.  Demonstrations, pseudo riots, threats, destruction of property, you name and it is happening right now in Plainville, USA.  All one has to do is turn on the television and watch the nightly news to see how divided our wonderful country is right now.  I recently saw a Youtube video that showed a guy running over a political sign with his off-road Jeep simply because he disagreed with the candidate.  You can watch that video here if you like but I am not promoting that video and don’t worry, I am not going to pitch my candidate or denigrate any that are out there.  I want to protect my clients and would be clients; that is the sole purpose of this blog post pure and simple.  As a landlord or a tenant you need to know what you can and cannot legally do in regards to free speech and your property.   In California there is a law that spells this out clearly for all to know, it is SB 337, which was passed a few years ago.  I think that this particular year it may be important to be familiar with what it says and what it means.

The first question you might ask is, “this is a matter of free speech protected under the 1st Amendment”.  Well in that case you would be wrong.  1st Amendment rights are to protect you from the Government not from your tenant or landlord.  So, the aim of this Bill is to protect the tenant from landlords who would try to prevent a tenant from placing a sign.  This bill would also protect the landlord from a tenant that would put up any old sign and display it on-going without ceasing.  Since the 1st Amendment does not prohibit private enterprises from restricting freedom of expression, including landlords, California decided it needed additional legislation, SB 337.  Can’t have enough laws now can we.

California already had legislation that addressed places like Condos, Townhomes and Mobile Home Parks from prohibiting unit owners from posting non-commercial signs or posters on their individual properties subject to limitations on size and material, but there was nothing that regarding tenants/landlords.  SB 337 was introduced to specifically address the ability of tenants to display such signs.  Initially SB 337 gave the right for tenants to display non-commercial signs, then after some rewording it now only addresses “political signs”.  So, under this new law as a tenant I could post a political sign for my favorite green party candidate but not a sign encouraging the eating of vegetables over meat.  And as a landlord, I could not prohibit my tenants posting of a sign for his candidate even if I did not agree with candidate.  SB 337 does contain limitations for the sign, such as, no more than six square feet nor may it violate any law.  The sign must relate to a specific election, referendum, recall or other issue that is up for public vote and cannot be just generally political in nature.  Thus, a sign that says “Tax Reform Now” or “Free Tibet” would not be protected and the landlord may remove it.  Signs can be displayed no more than 90 days in advance and no longer than 15 days after an election or vote.

So if you are a tenant or a landlord and you don’t like a candidate that your tenant or landlord is in favor of that is protected speech under California SB 337.  That said; keep your Jeep off the grass and let’s all keep a level head this election season.  Please feel free to share this with anyone you know who is a tenant or a landlord.  It may be something that they are unaware of and could save them a major headache.

John Conca