In the midst of this electoral season, perhaps it is especially timely to discuss sign regulation in communities, particularly as it relates to political signs. You may be getting questions or comments about sign regulation in your communities, so we thought it would be a good idea to let you know what goes, and what does not, in community associations with regard to political signs. There are those that will assume that there is no way that community associations can regulate political signs because it violates their right of free speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution. For reasons we will explain, this is not entirely correct in the community association context.

Of course it is common to have sign regulation in community associations, particularly with respect to “For Sale” signs. Is there a distinction to be made between “For Sale” signs and political signs? Political signs seem to have more to do with free speech than for sale signs. In fact, when analyzing government regulation of speech, courts often distinguish between “commercial speech” and other types of speech, and find that commercial speech is not entitled to the same level of protection as other types of speech. But does that matter in a community association?
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The Virginia Attorney General can issue opinions concerning statutory interpretation if requested to do so by an array of government officials from the Governor to a member of the Senate or House of Delegates to a local sheriff. These opinions are not binding on a judge but are persuasive when considering the law affecting a given case. In this case a member of the General Assembly asked: Is it legal under the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act (the "Act") for an association ("POA") to deactivate a member’s barcode decal if he or she is more than sixty days late paying an assessment. Deactivation of the barcode decal will restrict, but not completely deny, entry in to the neighborhood due to the existence of two access points, one manned and one not.


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Q.       It is springtime and a few creative and industrious neighbors are out erecting fences and sheds as others have done in the past without requesting the permission of the Association. We are a 24 home association that recently elected a homeowner board. The developer finished the last home in late fall. We are self-managing and are not sure what to do about enforcing our covenants. We have a provision that requires that any structures or exterior modifications have to be approved by the Board of Directors but the homeowners aren’t asking permission.


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Several years ago the Virginia General Assembly gave community associations the power to foreclose on their assessment liens.  This provided an apparent powerful tool in the collection of delinquent assessments.  I emphasize the word apparent.  First of all, and worst of all, association liens are subordinate to first mortgages and real estate taxes.  In this day in time it is most often the owner with virtually no equity in his property that is also delinquent in his assessments.  The first step in deciding on the use of the foreclosure option is to perform a title search to determine what liens are on the property. That might result in a quick decision to cease all action toward foreclosure because the sale will not yield any dollars for the association.  However, if there is substantial equity you should keep pursuing that option if the balance owed by the homeowner is significant enough to make the investment of costs  (attorney’s fees, advertising the sale, etc.) worthwhile. 


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Recently in a Fairfax County case involving the Shadowood Condominium Association the Court examined whether or not the board could assess charges against an owner for failing to submit a unit owner status report required by the Association and for violations of rules by the unit owner’s tenants.  It appears that this association’s documents had not adopted the provisions provided in the Virginia Condominium Act authorizing the assessment of charges for rules violations. In fact the Master Deed provides that “no common expense or other sums shall be assessed….other than for the maintenance, repair, replacement or improvement of the general common elements….”


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With the federally mandated switch from analog to digital signals the interest in satellite dishes has increased. A brief refresher on the Rules is in order. OTARD, the acronym for Over the Air Reception Devices prohibits community associations from enacting restrictions that unreasonably impair the installation, maintenance, or use of antennas used to receive video programming.


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