In our June, 2011 issue we reported that State Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) had introduced SB 337, a bill that would require property owners to allow tenants to post almost any type of non-commmercial sign, banner, or flag at the property—including posting on exterior-facing windows visible to other tenants or to the public right of way. Kehoe as well as the bill’s ardent supporters (most prominently, the ACLU) framed the issue as one of First Amendment free speech rights, an assertion which opponents argued contradicts the California Supreme Court’s ruling that the state’s free speech clause only applies to private property if the property is freely open and accessible to the public.
Opponents of the legislation’s original language, including SPOSF, argued that “because rental housing providers have a legal duty to ensure the peaceful and quiet enjoyment for all residents at the property, SB 337 interferes with their ability to fulfill this obligation. It denies property owners the ability to prevent the posting of signs and banners that may be offensive to other residents in the building and to the surrounding community. While the bill is intended to give freedom of expression to tenants, it takes from rental property owners their right to set standards for their property, hindering their ability to control visual blight and disputes between tenants.”

SB 337 goes into effect on January 1, 2012. Although opponents of the bill were unable to prevent its passage, they were successful in amending it to remove its more egregious provisions that would have allowed tenants to display almost any kind of non-commercial sign.
It is important to stress that in its final language, the new law applies only to political signs, and more specifically, only to signs for candidates and initiatives currently on the ballot. It does not give tenants the right to put up banners, flags, or signs that do not pertain to a current candidate or ballot or that exceed six square feet in size (2×3 feet). Local provisions also apply as to how long signs may remain. Presumably, although it does not spell out what exactly constitutes a prohibitable sign, a rental property owner could continue to prohibit flags and banners, or signs that express a tenant’s personal or political views. This being San Francisco, however, small property owners would do well to proceed with caution should they encounter a tenant who wishes to test the enforceability of the new law.

Reprinted with permission of the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute (SPOSFI) News.  For more information on becoming a member of SPOSFI or to send a tax-deductible donation, please visit their website at www.smallprop.org or call (415) 647-2419.

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