It was recently the time of year when campaign signs appeared all over town in places where they are permitted, and occasionally where they are not. The United States Supreme Court noted in City of Ladue v. Gilleo that “residential signs have long been an important and distinct medium of expression” and a “venerable means of communication that is both unique and important.” While it’s true that signs don’t win elections, they certainly don’t hurt!
Yet many Hoboken residents live in buildings where the condominium association Rules and Regulations or Covenants and Restrictions prohibit residents from displaying signs in their windows. These rules dissuade people from posting signs supporting their candidates of choice and stifle the free marketplace of ideas in a city where a huge portion of the residents live within the bounds set by a community association. However, a 2012 NJ Supreme Court case, which I had the privilege of briefing and arguing, held that every New Jersey resident has a fundamental right to display political signs in their windows, even if the Rules and Regulations or Covenants and Restrictions state otherwise. This is a testament to our state’s commitment to preserving freedom of speech.
The case, Mazdabrook Commons v. Khan, involved a resident of a homeowner’s association who was running for political office. He hung a sign supporting his candidacy in his own window and the homeowner’s association fined him $25 a day. The case proceeded all the way up to the NJ Supreme Court, which expressly held that a blanket prohibition on all signs but “For Sale” signs is contrary to “the State Constitution, which affirmatively guarantees the right of free speech to all citizens.” Thus, while condominium associations are free to enact reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on signs, they may not enact a blanket prohibition.
This election season featured races at the gubernatorial level all the way down to the Board of Education, and we Hoboken residents had a stake in each race. Political signs have long been an important method of democratic participation, and Hoboken residents should know that living in a condominium association no longer diminishes your right to participate in our democracy through political signs.
Dana Wefer, Esq.