Homeowners association not feeling the Bern: incorrect application of signage rule causes stir

Julia Rentsch

Apartments along Baystone Drive in Fort Collins. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.
Apartments along Baystone Drive in Fort Collins. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps.)

With Super Tuesday on the horizon, politically-active Fort Collins citizens are looking to make themselves heard. Some, however, are having a harder time of it than others.

In late January, the Collegian received an email from a landlord at the Baystone Apartments in Fort Collins whose tenants felt that their right to freedom of speech was being infringed upon by their property manager, All Property Services, Inc., when they were sent a request for a political sign to be taken down from their balcony and not put up again until September.

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The sign in question was a Bernie Sanders sign, which the tenants had kept hanging since the June 20, 2015 Sanders rally at the University of Denver. Its presence only became a problem after All Property Services took over as their homeowner association in early January of this year.

“Our sign is a mere 1.5-by-1, and we had hung it on our balcony on our second-floor condo,” wrote Jason Vignochi, one of two tenants to whom the sign in question belonged, in an email to the Collegian. “It had never caused an issue up until the new property managers took over.”

According to Colorado law, a homeowner association is allowed to restrict political signage, but may only do so earlier than 45 days before an election and more than seven days after an election. 

Vignochi’s landlord, Sue Pauley, pointed this fact out to All Property Services, citing the upcoming March 1 primaries as a reason that signs should be able to be posted starting Jan. 20. The property manager, however, did not relent.

“Although I can appreciate your tenant’s involvement in our country’s political climate, the law clearly states no more than 45 days before an election,” wrote Marlena Seery, Community Association Manager of All Property Services, in an email to Pauley. “A caucus is not considered an election.” 

Though Pauley said that she is not a Sanders supporter, she cares about the issue because it deals with what she sees as her tenants’ rights to support their opinions. Vignochi took his sign down.

“This whole thing is not only a suppression of one family’s First Amendment rights, but it’s a brazen effort to interrupt a necessary discourse in a heated primary season for nothing other than the interest of housing homogeneity,” Vignochi wrote. “However insignificant this story may be in the grand scheme of things, it is a reflection of the arduousness the regular American must endure at the behest of monetary interest.”

After Pauley inquired further about penalties for reposting the sign, Seery responded by citing her association’s Enforcement of Covenants and Rules Policy — a one-time fine of $100-$5,000 could be assessed in addition to daily $15-$25 fines until the sign is removed. 

“My tenant is understandably frustrated by this,” Pauley wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Obviously, if Sanders does not do well in the caucus, there will be no point of putting the sign up for the general election in November.”

After the Collegian made a phone call to All Property Services, Inc., Patrick Mitchell, homeowner association accountant, stated initially that he was unfamiliar with the law. He soon amended that statement to say that the requests for removal of the sign were made incorrectly.

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“That letter was sent out in error, and we will be in contact with the unit,” Mitchell said. “The covenants are old — they have never been redone … CCIOA trumps that right now.” 

The current version of the CCIOA, the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act, was adopted in 2014 and is intended to “establish a clear, comprehensive and uniform framework for the creation and operation of common-interest communities,” according to its own language.

“We’re not denying anybody’s freedom of speech — nothing like that,” Mitchell said. “And we are here to help.”

As of the time of this article’s publication, All Properties has not yet contacted Pauley or Vignochi about their reconsideration. 

Collegian Reporter Julia Rentsch can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter via @julia_rentsch.