As many of you may have noticed, it is election season, and a big one at that. Because Condo Associations are in the thick of Owner life, that means that you’re going to be in the thick of elections whether you like it or not. Today we’ll cover how to handle political events in a Condo Association.
Many communities have private preservable areas – maybe a clubhouse, rec room, party room, rooftop, whatever. During a campaign season, your Owners may be interested in reserving these rooms to hold private political events – mini rallies, candidate meet and greets, information sessions, etc. Making sure these events stay positive and not contentious is a major challenge. Here are steps that your Board can take to address relevant issues and set good policies and procedures for the election season.
What are Your Current Community Rules Around Private Events and Room Reservations?
First and foremost, dig out your reservation rules – hopefully you have some already. Do you expressly prohibit political events? If so, make sure it is clearly communicated to Owners to prevent any misunderstandings.
If you don’t like your Association’s current rules and intend to change them, I suggest you jump on that as soon as possible. You likely have a 15- or 30-day comment period for any rule changes, and you likely will receive comments if you change a policy in an election year. Make sure you have a strong communications plan and be ready to politely and clearly respond to Owner feedback.
Check in With Your Lawyer
In general, Associations are considered private entities, not public, and thus are not bound by the First Amendment. However, there are two cases that recently have begun to shift this landscape. Additionally, there may be other legal considerations – for example, in Florida, political events receive “limited priority.” You can read more about that here (link: ).
The bottom line is that this is not a clear-cut situation, and when you add in the charged atmosphere around political events, you want to make sure you’re on firm legal footing. Further, consulting proactively with a lawyer and receiving a formal legal opinion gives you more ammunition if an Owner starts rattling the saber – you can provide the legal opinion and hopefully convince them to back down.
You Must Enforce Rules Equally. At All Costs
You always should enforce rules equally, but this is even more critical when it comes to political issues. People get emotionally charged over politics, and inadvertent slights or differences of treatment can turn into a free speech and fairness issue – if one individual feels their event wasn’t treated the same as an event from an opposing party, you may have drama and headaches. You should also keep this in mind if you’re planning on changing your rules. For example, say you currently allow political events, and Owners have held them for some candidates. Now you intend to ban future events, and opposing political party supporters view this as “unfair.” Expect an outcry.
Ensure That Events Keep Within Scope, Don’t Litter, and Disperse Appropriately
With political events often comes pamphlets, stickers, pins, etc. Make sure that in advance of a private event that there are no illegal door-to-door campaigns – materials put under doors, on cars, etc. Even if your rules allow for private political events, your rules almost certainly do not allow for soliciting or littering. Make sure it is very clear to anyone hosting an event that they are NOT to solicit and that you’ll respond to the greatest power possible within the Bylaws. You need to keep your community clean.
Remember these are private events. That means they need to occur privately, in the reserved area. Once completed, they need to be cleaned up, with no stacks of campaign materials “accidentally” left behind. To the extent possible, understanding there are legitimate free speech issues here, events should also disperse and not turn into “let’s start informally campaigning in the lobby” or another location beyond the scope of the event. Free speech is one thing, soliciting is another, particularly in large groups.
Make Sure Staff Know What is and is Not Allowed
As I’ve mentioned before, people are always the weakest link. If you have staff, make sure they understand what is and is not allowed. The bottom line is that unless people are actively campaigning in lobbies or entry ways, it’s probably best for your staff to not engage and instead document incidents and report to Management and the Board.
Keep it Polite, but Be Firm
As with many of things in Condo Associations, there’s a tendency to make things more emotional than they need to be. Keep things calm, know the facts, communicate policies clearly to Owners, and you’ll be able to handle political events in a condo association during this election cycle.