An interesting discussion popped into my Facebook stream this week. A supporter of the Water Street Millage initially thought their yard sign had been stolen, but upon further investigation, it turned out their pro-millage yard sign had been removed by their anti-millage landlord. I am not too concerned about the specifics of this event, but rather this question: If there is nothing in a lease forbidding yard signs, should a landlord be able to forbid placement of political yard, or window signs with which they disagree?
I asked Damn Arbor's in-house counsel for their thoughts on the matter and our three attorneys gave me four different answers on the legality of a landlord preventing a tenant from placing a yard sign: no, yes, maybe, and it's complicated. The crux of the issue seems to be whether a tenant's ability to place a yard sign of their choosing would come under the protection of a quiet enjoyment clause. Our legal team did agree on one thing: they would not advise the tenant to challenge the landlord in this case because 1) the landlord has deeper pockets for a court case and 2) landlords have usually have much more power than tenants.
I know there is some precedent for limiting someone's ability to place yard signs. For example, condominium associations and co-op boards can forbid placement of signs in yards as well as windows. Gentle readers, I wonder what you think about this. I know the ability to place a political yard sign in one's yard is just a small component of political speech. Nevertheless, it seems like an important avenue for political engagement, especially at the local level. Personally, I think tenants should be able to place yard signs of their choosing, especially overtly political ones. I realize this could lead to a tenant placing signs the landlord disagrees with, or even morally repugnant signs (say for example a sign endorsing AG Bill Schuette for Governor). Still, I think the ability to freely place yard signs is an important, if small, component of one's speech. Just because one does not own the property in which they reside, should not keep them from exercising their speech.