The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that homeowners' associations may not prohibit political signs that are placed by a homeowner on the homeowner's property. On Wednesday, June 13, 2012, the Court ruled in the case of Mazdabrook Commons HOA v. Kahn (A-65-10) (067094) that the homeowners' association violated a resident's free speech rights under the New Jersey Constitution by issuing him a violation for two political signs that the homeowner had placed in his window and inside his glass door.
The Court noted that an individual's free speech rights guaranteed under the New Jersey Constitution are broader than the free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in that the federal constitution bars government actors from restraining speech, while "In New Jersey, an individual’s affirmative right to speak freely 'is protected not only from abridgement by government, but also from unreasonably restrictive and oppressive conduct by private entities' in certain situations." Mazdabrook, at p.12.
Importantly, the Court also ruled that the homeowners' association's signage restriction is an unreasonable restraint on free speech, and that the homeowner did not waive his constitutional rights by purchasing the property, which was subject to the Association's governing documents which contained provisions restricting the signage. Mazdabrook, at 31-32.
The Court's ban on signage restrictions is not absolute, of course. Homeowners' associations still retain the right to impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on signage.
In a free speech matter unrelated to signs on Association property, a Knob Hill resident has challenged Manalapan's restrictions on political signage containing speech that is unrelated to a governmental election, which signs are placed on private property with the permission of the property owner. A revision to Manalapan's ordinances is scheduled for a vote in the Manalapan Township Committee open meeting on June 20, 2012.
Knob Hill's signage restrictions are even more onerous than the restrictions that were in place in the Mazdabrook case. Mazdabrook reportedly allowed real estate "for sale" signs, while Knob Hill prohibits all signs of any kind.
New Jersey's Supreme Court has ruled, and its decision is unambiguous and could not be clearer. Homeowners' associations, including Knob Hill, must allow for political signage on the resident's property. In another landmark case involving signage, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in Committee for a Better Twin Rivers v. Twin Rivers, 192 N.J. 344 (2007) that a restriction which allowed political signs in the window of a residence, and in the flower bed adjacent to a residence, was reasonable.
We implore the Knob Hill Board to promptly amend its governing documents to conform with the clearly stated decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court, and permit signage within Knob Hill.
- Glenn Cohen