Election Law for Homeowners Associations (Inspired by a True Story)
My wife and I pride ourselves on being politically aware and active. Each election cycle we display a handful of lawn signs for our favorite candidates in our front yard. In the past we’ve displayed signs for our preferred candidates at all levels of government, and this year we have just one sign, for our candidate for Albertville Mayor
Back in 2010, our exercise of our First Amendment rights garnered us a violation notice from our homeowners association. I immediately called our management company and told our property manager to look up Minnesota Statute 211.045. Long story short, she did, and the violation was rescinded.
When it comes to legal restrictions in state law, local ordinances and homeowner association covenants, the general rule is that local ordinances can me more restrictive than state statutes, and association covenants can be more restrictive than local ordinances. However, when it comes to a state general election year in Minnesota (i.e., any even numbered year), the general rule is reversed.
Minnesota Statutes Section 211B.045 states that “In any municipality, whether or not the municipality has an ordinance that regulates the size or number of noncommercial signs, all noncommercial signs of any size may be posted in any number from August 1 in a state general election year until ten days following the state general election.” Hence, in my case, where our association’s covenants permits campaign signs until 60 days prior to the general election, 211B.045 supersedes the provision in our covenants.
Similarly, in apartment-style condominium associations, another Minnesota statutory provision overrides restrictions on access to the building for political candidates.
Minnesota Statutes Section 211B.20 states that “It is unlawful for a person, either directly or indirectly, to deny access to an apartment house, dormitory, nursing home, manufactured home park, other multiple unit facility used as a residence, or an area in which two or more single-family dwellings are located on private roadways to a candidate who has filed for election to public office or to campaign workers accompanied by the candidate, if the candidate and workers seeking admittance to the facility do so solely for the purpose of campaigning. A violation of this section is a petty misdemeanor.”
When it comes to homeowner associations, care must be taken to let the balance between preserving order with residents’ private property rights not skew too far to the order preservation side. When it comes to the election year issues discussed above, not only are property rights at issue, but also the homeowners’ first amendment rights of free speech and free expression. Hence the state preemption of local restrictions, including those included in homeowner association governing documents.
For more information on these statutes, you can visit the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website.