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VERIFY: Can your landlord or HOA prohibit 'Black Lives Matter' signs?

A viewer contacted the Verify Team, and asked if it was legal for a person to be required to take down a BLM sign, by either a landlord or an HOA.

WASHINGTON — Question:

Can a landlord require that tenants remove BLM signs in public-facing spaces like their window or their balconies? For those who own, can an HOA, condo board or co-op board require a unit owner to take down BLM signs?

Answer: 

It depends on the contract. For both renters and owners, there is typically wording that restricts all signs in outward-facing windows or balconies. Under this language, one could be required to remove their Black Lives Matter sign. A contract restricting "Black Lives Matter" signs, in particular, would likely be considered discriminatory and could lead to legal challenges. 

Source:

Amy Groff, Senior Vice President of Industry Operations at The National Apartment Association

Kevin Anderson, President and CEO at Standard Title Group

Saman Zomorodi, VP of Developer Relations and Condo Conversion Specialist at Standard Title Group

Process:

The Verify team received an email from a viewer named Donovan Thomas, who lives in Southwest, D.C. He told the Verify team that in July he hung a "Black Lives Matter" sign from his balcony. 

"To put that banner up was, and is, important," he said. "I want to support the movement, the Black Lives Matter movement."

Soon after he put the sign up, he said he received notice that he needed to remove the sign, due to co-op bylaws restricting signs in public-facing areas. 

"I got a physical letter that said that I have seven days to remove my banner from the balcony," Thomas said. 

He asked the Verify team to look into whether it's legal for a co-op board to have a restriction regarding signs in public-facing areas. The Verify team expanded this question out to include condo boards, HOA's and landlords.

Kevin Anderson, the President and CEO at Standard Title Group, said that this type of restriction is typically legal, so long as it is uniform. 

"I think it is legal for a board to restrict the use of all signage," he said. "As long as it's everything, encompassing all signing, whether it's 'hello,' 'Merry Christmas,' or 'Black Lives Matter.'" 

Anderson said that a sign rule could be considered discriminatory if it only applies to one group or movement. 

"If they started putting, you can only have signs for this, or you can't have signs for a particular event, then I think you'd have a bigger problem." 

The Verify team also spoke with Amy Groff, from the National Apartment Association. She said that a tenant should look at the specific wording in the lease to find out if signs are restricted. 

"If it's in your contract that they're not allowed - that signage is not allowed - they are allowed to ask you to take it down," Groff said. 

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