Freedom of Speech and Assembly

Freedom of Speech and Assembly

Dear Mr. Richardson, Our board is considering banning informal meetings in common areas. To me, this sounds like a violation of the constitutional right of assembly, but are there laws in California that cover this? S.M. Escondido Dear Kelly, I have a question regarding the new state law supporting use of common facilities for political activities, and one on first amendment rights. The new law allows residents to use common facilities for political meetings without charge. May the HOA limit attendance to only residents, residents and guests according to its adopted policies, or may/must these programs be open to all? Can an HOA prohibit the display of political signage on front lawns? For example, must the HOA allow residents to have campaign signs? Are there limitations to this allowance like size, length of display time, etc., as established in the HOA rules and policies? B.S., Murrieta Dear S.M. and B.S., Two Davis-Stirling sections create First Amendment-type rights in HOAs – Civil Code Sections 4710 and 4515. Section 4710 protects the right of members to display noncommercial signs or banners in or on their separate interest. In a typical airspace condominium that would mean inside a window or sliding door, and in a planned development would allow such a sign or banner to be displayed anywhere within the lot. There is a size limit but no time limitation on display. Can the HOA stop a resident displaying an offensive racist or prurient sign or banner? No. However, under the current federal Fair Housing regulations (and the soon to be official California Fair Housing regulations), the HOA or any resident could...
California Now Has Fair Housing Regulations: Sexual Harassment is Illegal

California Now Has Fair Housing Regulations: Sexual Harassment is Illegal

The federal Housing and Urban Development Department (“HUD”), adopted regulations in September 2016 which for the first time prohibited sexual harassment within housing accommodations. “Housing accommodations” in this context includes homeowner associations. These regulations have thus far not received widespread attention, but in California this will change soon. In August 2018 the California Fair Employment and Housing Council approved Fair Housing regulations, providing the first written enforcement guidelines to help associations comply and avoid exposure to state or private discrimination claims. The new state regulations will take effect on January 1 or April 1, 2019, after some further rule-making process, and will be found at California Code of Regulations 12000-12271. The inaugural regulations do not address all Fair Housing issues but are informative regarding accommodation of disabilities and assistance animals, and also bring a new requirement by echoing the HUD regulations (as California must) by requiring housing providers to reasonably respond to sexual harassment against residents. Sexual harassment was previously considered only as an employment issue, and its two varieties – unwanted sexual advances and hostile environment- have both long been illegal in the workplace. Under the new regulations, associations must protect residents from unwanted advances not only from vendors or management, but also from other residents. If a resident complains against a neighbor, what should associations do, since they can’t relocate or evict residents? Kevin Kish, Director of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, said “an HOA can’t be liable for failure to take an action it doesn’t have the power to take.” Under section 12010(c) a violation exists where the person knew or should have known...
Is Our HOA Now a Free Speech Zone?

Is Our HOA Now a Free Speech Zone?

Dear Kelly, Thank you for your always insightful columns. I have a question regarding the new state law supporting use of common facilities for political activities, and one on first amendment rights. The new law allows residents to use common facilities for political meetings without charge. May the HOA limit attendance to only residents, residents and guests according to its adopted policies, or may/must these programs be open to all? Can an HOA prohibit the display of political signage on front lawns? For example, must the HOA allow residents to have campaign signs? Are there limitations to this allowance like size, length of display time, etc. as established in the HOA rules and policies? With what promises to be a contentious election season this year, this information will be quite timely. B.S., Murrieta Dear B.S., The new law you mention is Civil Code 4515, which bars associations from charging a fee or requiring insurance as a condition of holding meetings which relate to “common interest development living, association elections, legislation, election to public office, or the initiative, referendum, or recall processes” (Civil 4515(b)(1)). That is a very broad (and vague) array of topics, but the association can still require a deposit or insurance for other uses of the common facilities. Also, while the statute says the association cannot bar the use (if the facility is available), that does not mean the HOA has to give carte blanche. For example, if someone wants to hold an event and serve alcohol, the association could reasonably allow the meeting, but not allow food or alcohol to be served without a deposit or...