Political Yard Signs: Can I stop my tenant from posting them?

Politics. It can get the blood boiling, and it can cause fights between otherwise peaceful people. The presidential election grows closer, and you may be wondering what rights you have as a landlord regarding yard signs placed on property that you own in Bakersfield.

Imagine this: Your tenant has just erected political yard signs for the latest national socialist. They are asking neighbors to vote for rent control. They want the government to reduce rents against your will. But, what can you do about it? Read this article, and find out!

The General Rule

The general rule is this: “a landlord shall not prohibit a tenant from posting or displaying political signs . . .” (Civ. Code, § 1940.4, subd. (a).) But this rule has exceptions.

When the tenant wishes to post any sign regarding:

  • election or legislative vote;
  • initiative, referendum, or recall process; or
  • issues before a public body for a vote,

then the general rule applies. (Civ. Code, § 1940.4, subd. (a).)

The Landlord May Control Location (with limitations)

Tenants have statutory rights. But those rights require that the tenant put the sign in specific locations. The approved location changes if the tenant resides in a single family residence or in a multi-unit building.

In a multi-unit structure, tenants are not expressly permitted to post signs in the yard. (Civ. Code, § 1940.4, subd. (b).) They are permitted to post signs in their windows or on their doors, and the landlord may not prohibit this. (Civ. Code, § 1940.4, subd. (b).)

In a single-family residence, tenants rights expand. There, they are permitted to use the “yard, window, door, balcony, or outside wall of the premises” for their signs. (Civ. Code, § 1940.4, subd. (b).)

When the Landlord may forbid yard signs

A landlord does have some rights. Outside the limited control on location, the landlord may expressly prohibit specific signs in some circumstances. (Civ. Code, § 1940.4, subd. (c).) For example, Civil Code section 1940.4, subdivision (c)(1) allows a landlord to prohibit any sign that is more than six square feet in area. This includes signs that are larger than 2-foot by 3-foot or 3-foot by 2-foot. (Take the length times the width to determine the square footage area of the sign.)

Does the yard sign violate a local ordinance?

Along a similar lines, landlords may prohibit signs when they violate local ordinances. Many local ordinances have their own rules about the size of signs and also their number. You may be able to prohibit any signs in excess of the first sign, for example. Check your local ordinances to be certain.

Note, in Bakersfield, you have a different set of ordinances depending upon whether the house is under Bakersfield’s jurisdiction or Kern County’s jurisdiction. This is sometimes harder to determine than you think. If you are not sure, the City and the County officials will be quick to provide assistance. Just provide them an address.

Bakersfield’s Municipal Code

Bakersfield has rules that are very favorable to land owners. For example, if your property is in Bakersfield, municipal code 17.60.070, subdivision C, (last updated May 2020) states that “[Political signs] shall not be placed on private property without the consent of the property owner.”

The same section of the code also limits private property to just one sign per yard. (Maybe you have a sign that you’d like to place in the yard you own.) This rule changes to two signs if there is a general or primary election within the next 90 days or the previous 10 days.

Kern county sign ordinances

Kern county rules are slightly different. On a cursory review, I don’t see a limitation on the number of signs, but Kern county does limit the length of time that the signs may be placed. Where Bakersfield allows one sign at all times, Kern county states that no sign may be placed for a period longer than 90 days and must be removed if the election was more than 15 days previous. (Kern County Code of Ordinances, Chapter 19.84.100)

Does the yard sign violate a local HOA regulation?

Section 1940.4 also notes that a landlord may prohibit signs that violate the rules of a planned unit development (PUD). Covenants, restrictions and neighborhood rules regarding political messaging control. Get to know the rules in your community, and if the sign violates them, you may ask your tenants to follow the local rules.

Exercise Caution

You may notice that the rules sometimes conflict. The state law gives tenants of single family residences the right to post signs in their yard. The Bakersfield local ordinance only permits one sign in the yard (during most times of the year). If you post a sign of your own, are you denying your tenant a right granted by statute?

I don’t know the answer to this. One could argue that the tenant still has lots of other places that he or she could post signs other than the yard, so the tenant hasn’t been denied a substantive right. However, I’d try to exercise caution and use the most restrictive interpretation in favor of the tenant.

If it were my property and only one sign were permitted in the yard, I’d give the tenant the first choice of a yard sign. It’s safer, because it complies with both the state statute and the Bakersfield ordinance. Ask a lawyer if you need specific advice.

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