Published October 23. 2020 02:45PM
During this contentious presidential campaign, there seems to be a political sign everywhere you look.
But there’s at least one planned community in Carbon County where displaying a sign can lead to fines. And not all the residents agree with that.
“I don’t care what anyone puts in their yard. But you’re going to tell me a house I pay $6,000 a year in taxes, and keep nice, I should be able to put whatever I want,” said Barry Gerhard, a resident of Towamensing Trails.
Gerhard recently put up a “Keep America Great” banner on the roof of his garage.
It didn’t take long for him to receive a warning from the private security hired by the development’s homeowners association: take down the banner, or pay a fine.
One of the community rules which residents must abide by is a ban on all political advertising.
Rules and bylaws are common in communities which have a homeowners association.
In Towamensing the rules are included in the 22-page list of rules set up by the “architectural control committee,” which regulates everything from paint colors to tree removal.
They expanded it last year because people were displaying political materials on things other than signs. “It’s always stated that in the covenants, and rules have changed over the years. Last year made that little change because we had issues with flags and signs,” said Natalie Shepherdson, office coordinator for Towamensing Trails.
Shepherdson said that the rule is in place to help maintain the well-kept look of the community. And the board which sets the rules for building hasn’t expressed any desire to lift the ban on political signs.
“Because it’s an election year, everyone wants to put their signs up and their flags, which is understandable,” Shepherdson said. “But it’s everywhere, and if we allow one, then we have to allow all.”
For the most part, political signs are protected by freedom of speech. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that municipalities are not allowed to ban them.
But in Pennsylvania, courts have ruled that homeowners associations have a right to enforce regulations on signs, even if they restrict a homeowner’s right to free speech.
Some states have passed laws which say that homeowners associations can’t restrict political signs.
A representative from Monroe County introduced a bill in 2017 which would force homeowners associations to allow residents to display political signs. It has yet to be passed.
Some people might enjoy an existence free from political signs.
But Gerhard said he doesn’t think that the development should be able to tell residents what they can display on their property.
He said there are other violations throughout the community which should be enforced because they have a greater negative impact on the appearance of the community than political signs.
But he said he’s willing to pay the fine in order to continue to express his political beliefs.
“It doesn’t say Donald Trump on it, even if it said Joe Biden on it, what do I care? It’s your house. It’s not like I have a billboard on it with lights on it,” Gerhard said.
Barry Gerhard is in violation for the political banner on his roof. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS