UPDATED: SF resident fights for his right to post political signs

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Elliot Kamin turned to the ACLU to defend his right to post these political signs.

In September, shortly after Elliot Kamin placed two political signs in the window of the condo he rents near Ocean Beach in the Richmond District, he received a letter from his property manager saying, “The signs you have posted in your window are a clear violation of the rules and regulations of the association. Please remove the signs immediately.” But now, with help of the American Civil Liberties Union, the signs are back up and Kamin is no longer being threatened with fines.

Ironically, one of the restored signs reflected Kamin's concern for civil liberties, urging voters to reject Prop. L, the proposed law that would criminalize sitting or lying on San Francisco sidewalks.

“It is a problem that a lot of condo associations don’t seem to be aware that free speech rights don’t stop at the condo gates,” ACLU attorney Linda Lye told the Guardian. She suggests that some condo residents might be willingly complying with requests to remove signs because they are unaware of the laws.

California Civil Code Section 1353.6 states that homeowners associations “may not prohibit posting or displaying of non commercial signs, posters, flags, or banners on or in property that belongs to a condo owner.”

Kamin called the property management company, which works with the homeowners association that set the rules, and he was told they wouldn't recognize that legal right, which they said was trumped by their rules for the properties. So Kamin called the ACLU and together, they filed a suit against the Citiscape Property Management Group and the Ocean Beach Homeowners Association.

“If you really want to piss me off, tell me that someone has more rights because they own property,” Kamin said.

OBHA finally relented and entered into a settlement last week that allowed Kamin to put up his two signs, which opposed Prop. L, the proposed sit-lie ordinance and supported judicial candidate Michael Nava. A call to OBHA wasn't answered and a message left at CPMG hasn't yet been returned.

“What good are rights if they’re only on paper?” Kamin said.

UPDATE: I just got a call back from Kevin Wyley, president of CPMG, who said the incident began when an individual board member sent Kamin the letter telling him to take down the sign. Wyley didn't become involved with the situation for about another week: "I was not aware that the board member had told the tenant he could not put up the signs," he told us. "The board member had mistakenly told the tenant he couldn't put up a sign."

Once he was able to reach all the board members to get their assent, Wyley said he contacted Kamin and the ACLU to let them know the signs could remain, although they continue to disagree with the ACLU over whether tenants may have more than nine square feet of total signage.

Wyley said hsaid it took a few more days to get some traveling board members to weigh in on the issue, but once they

Comments

Wow, thanks to the ACLU this condo has backed off. Condo's and HOAs routinely ignore their own governing documents, the general laws of the State and fundemental principles of democracy...this quote is actually from the Dept of Community Affairs in New Jersey!
The AARP got involved in a $1million dollar lawsuit with a condo in NJ....the condo tried to keep a potential candidate for the board from having access to the newsletter and posting political signs...

$1million dollars!

These places are a disgrace to our American democracy.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 30, 2010 @ 4:05 am

Did Greg get money from these jerks?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 30, 2010 @ 9:05 pm

I guess the guest who made the comment above knows me, because Greg is in fact the name I go by. The confusion probably comes from the name filed in the legal documents.

And no, I didn't get any money for it. I didn't ask for any, because that really wasn't the point of the suit, though the attorneys would have motioned for legal fees had it gone to court the next day. The point of going to court was the issue of the broader defense of civil liberties. But while I'm very serious about defending my rights, I really didn't start with the intention of litigating. This should have been solved with a simple conversation along the lines of
Me: "Hey you really can't do this. California law explicitly protects this sort of speech."
Them: "Oh, OK. I guess you're right. Our mistake. Go ahead and put your signs back up, and sorry to bother you."

Instead it went something like this (except with lots more eyebrow-raising quotes):
Me: "Hey you really can't do this. California law explicitly protects this sort of speech."
Them: "Well maybe we don't recognize that law."

Oh really? Well... if that's the way it's gonna be now...

And at that point it became more than about me posting these signs. I don't want an exception to be carved out just for me. I want the whole city (and indeed the whole state) to know that condo associations can't silence political speech.

And it happens all the time. I've never encountered that level of hostility for the mere excersize of my rights. Though the president of the property management company has now said it was all a big misunderstanding, that's not at all the impression I got from correspondence with both the company and the HOA board. My personal feeling from the way I was treated was that they knew that what they were doing was completely illegal, but they have a certain order that they like to keep, and they'd prefer it if people are not aware of their rights and don't assert them. (I'm actually being charitable here).

But I don't want to pick on this particular association. Like I said, this happens all the time throughout the city and the state. "No signs" rules are common, and so is the practice of associations/property management companies telling residents who challenge the rules that the law somehow doesn't apply to them, or that their own rules supercede the law, or some other nonsense like that.

And frankly that situation is crap. We passed a law protecting free speech in this state. The law is crystal clear, and it needs to be enforced. I don't want money from this. I want residents to see this throughout the state, and use the information to tell condo associations that they have no right to silence their free speech rights. I hope that I started a spark of change to that culture that can't be extinguished.

Posted by Greg Kamin on Oct. 30, 2010 @ 11:28 pm

Greg,

If you rent a condo then you are not protected by rent control.

So maybe you can techncially win a case to put a dumb poster up in your window, although quite why you'd want to piss off the person who provides you with a home escapes me.

But you'll no doubt get a 60 day notice before the end of your lease.

Way to go, asshat.

Posted by TomF on Nov. 01, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

My landlord has no problem with the signs (not that it should matter). The association's no sign policy was infringing on the rights of owners and tenants alike.

Posted by Greg Kamin on Nov. 01, 2010 @ 10:29 pm