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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington appellate court hears dispute over state yard sign law

The Temple of Justice, where the state Supreme Court is housed, in Olympia.  (Albert James/The Spokesman-Review / The Spokesman-Review)

Under Washington state law, a homeowner association can’t ban people from displaying political yard signs before an election.

But the law doesn’t specify if there’s a time limit on how long before.

The way the law is written spurred an argument that has made its way up to an appellate court.

The state Legislature passed the law in 2005 that forbade homeowner associations from making neighborhood rules that prohibit owners or residents from displaying political yard signs “before any primary or general election.” The law also says a homeowner association may include “reasonable rules and regulations regarding the placement and manner of display of political yard signs.”

In 2021, a Vancouver couple put a yard sign in front of their house supporting a candidate running for local city council.

Their neighborhood homeowner association’s board of directors ordered them to take the sign down because it was put up more than 60 days before the election, according to court documents.

The couple took the homeowners association to court, arguing that state law doesn’t grant them the authority to establish a time threshold for their sign.

On Thursday, the state Division 2 Court of Appeals in Tacoma heard arguments from the couple’s lawyer and the lawyer representing the Fairway Village Homeowners Association about interpreting the state yard sign law.

Moloy Good, the attorney representing the couple, told the court that the simple language in the law means housing associations can’t establish any rules about how long signs can be up before an election.

“Our main argument is that this is unambiguous,” Good said. “Since neither ‘placement’ nor ‘manner’ contain a temporal element to their definitions, and the statute doesn’t otherwise say ‘time,’ then the statute does not allow for the regulation of time.”

Simone McCormick, the attorney representing Fairway Village Homeowners Association, argued the Legislature was open to homeowners associations making time rules for yard signs, as long as they didn’t ban them outright.

“The first sentence of the statute just makes sure that (homeowner associations) don’t have the ability to outright ban political speech,” McCormick told the court.

The court had yet to publish a ruling in the case as of Thursday evening.