The New Jersey Supreme Court has recently decided that an outright prohibition of political signs in a community association is unconstitutional. While the ruling will most likely result in future rulings with different facts, it does provide a concise rebuttal to political sign prohibitions dealing with free speech.
In Mazdabrook Association v. Wasim Kahn, the Association prohibited any type of sign other than a “For Sale” sign. Kahn, who was running for Township Council, posted a couple of signs in support of his candidacy. One was in the front of his window and the other inside of his front door. The association demanded the signs be taken down, and Mr. Kahn complied. Litigation ensued, the Trial Court found in favor of the association. While the Appellate Division reversed, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the Appellate Division’s ruling.
Committee for a Better Twin Rivers v. Twin Rivers Homeowners Association, a 2007 New Jersey Supreme Court case, was the first case to weigh in on the free speech issue within a community association. In Twin Rivers, the association, while allowing free speech as related to political signs, placed certain “time, place, and manner” rules for displaying such political free speech. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that while these sign restrictions were “minor”, these restrictions were such that “expressional” activities were still permitted. Thus, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that the Twin Rivers political sign rules were constitutional.
The difference in the Mazdabrook case is the Board enforced language within the governing documents prohibiting signs except “For Sale” signs. The Mazdabrook rules regarding signs, when balanced with the constitutional right of free speech, were found to be unenforceable.
What does this mean for community associations in New Jersey? It means that associations must follow the Twin Rivers Policy of “time, place, and manner” restrictions relating to political free speech. An outright prohibition to political signs is an affront to constitutionally protected free speech and will not be enforced.