WASHINGTON — The political climate is always hot in the nation's Capitol, especially when there's a new candidate announcing their bid for the presidency every day.
You might notice more decals, license plates and signs decorating the city. Before the 2018 election, sign wars broke out around D.C.
Edmond Lee contacted KHOU, our TEGNA-affiliate station in Houston, Texas, after his apartment management told him to remove his Beto O-Rourke sign from this window.
“There are several individual apartments that have been threatened with outrageous fines in the hundreds of dollars or even eviction for displaying them, which seems like a gross violation of free speech, as well as an overreach of a tenant-landlord relationship," Lee said.
KHOU verified that yes, apartment complexes in Houston are allowed to make tenants remove political signs from their windows.
Our team wanted to check out if the same rules apply in the DMV.
To get the answer, our Verify researchers spoke with four housing law experts from the Maryland Attorney General's office, a Georgetown Law Professor, the Apartment & Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington and the National Apartment Association.
"That would depend on what it says in the lease," Karen Straughn, Maryland Assistant Attorney General Director of Mediation Unit Consumer Protection Division, said. "There aren't any statues that require that, but if the lease says that they can't have any particular signs then they may be able to force them to take it down."
There's a statute in Maryland that pertains to home owners associations and condominiums.
"[The statute] requires that you have a limited period of time that you could have candidate signs or signs in favor of propositions ... on your yard," Straughn said. "So you can restrict them or prohibit them outside of a certain period of time."
Per state law, condo tenants are allowed to display political signs 30 days prior to an election, and must remove them up to seven days after.
Straughn's department has had to mediate homeowner association disputes over political signs.
"We've mediated and had to say that this is what the statute says, that they have a limited amount of time that they can have it up," Straughn said.
"A housing provider may not direct residents to remove political signs or banners from their balcony or window unless such activity is prohibited under the terms of the lease agreed to by the tenant," Nicola Whiteman, Senior VP of Governmental Affairs at AOBA, said. "There is nothing in code that would allow the housing provider to restrict such activity outside of lease agreement."
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
With D.C. there's a bit of a gray area since political affiliation is a protected class under housing laws.
Some experts say it still comes down to the lease.
"This is all a matter of contract, there is no constitutional free speech right in private settings," Michael Diamond, law professor at Georgetown University, said. "So unless there is a statute, and there is not something in D.C., if there's not a statute, it's a matter essentially of contract."
So make sure to read your lease thoroughly.
"There will be a provision that the tenant agrees to abide the rules and regulations of the property, and the property can say there is no right to post signs on the exterior of the building or perhaps the common areas of the building," Diamond said.
According to AOBA, a tenant in this position might have a legal case.
"The law does allow for some sort of recourse for individuals who do want to express themselves in the District as a protected class," Randi Marshall, Vice President of Government affairs at AOBA, said.
The National Apartment Association holds that the lease can't specifically ban political signs, but can ban all signs instead.
"In D.C. you have to be a little careful because political affiliation is a protected class, so you can't have a lease that stipulates that you can have signage other than a political affiliation sign," Amy Groff, Senior Vice President of Industry Operations at NAA, said.
Since there's no precedent for a tenant ever taking an apartment management to court over a political sign, it's difficult to say for sure.
So we can Verify, in Maryland and Virginia if you signed a lease that says you can't post signs in your window or on your balcony, they can force you to take it down. In D.C. it's a little murky, but you'll likely still have to take it down if it's in the lease.