Amherst condo association bans banning signs

Staff Writer
Monday, December 20, 2021

AMHERST — Residents at an Amherst condominium complex are amending the site’s master deed to ensure that no one living there will be prevented from displaying signs supporting political candidates or promoting their religious or moral beliefs.

In an exercise of free speech, in part the result of a successful ACLU case earlier this year that allowed a Belchertown resident to keep her Black Lives Matter sign up, Hampshire Village Condominium residents voted to file a revised master deed with the Hampshire County Registry of Deeds.

“We deeply appreciate the Hampshire Village trustees and residents recognizing the importance of the fundamental right to speech,” Bill Newman, an attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Western Massachusetts office, said in a statement.

A Hampshire Superior Court judge ruled in January that a woman must be allowed to display a Black Lives Matter sign outside her Summer Hill Estates home in Belchertown, citing the free speech provision of the Massachusetts Constitution in ruling against the condominium development.

And in 2019, a federal district court permanently blocked Holyoke from enforcing an ordinance prohibiting “temporary” lawn signs on private property in the city during three months of the year, and prohibiting bumper stickers all year. Plymouth recently agreed to stop enforcing similar ordinances following ACLU action.

The new Hampshire Village rule, prompted by legal analysis provided by the ACLU, states that, “All Unit Owners have a right to display a non-commercial posting (e.g., a sign, flag, banner, or other decoration), including a posting of a political, religious, moral, cultural, or scientific nature, or one that otherwise contributes to the free marketplace of ideas.”

The new language does limit the size of signs to 20 inches by 30 inches, and limits where signs can be placed, such as the garden bed adjacent to a unit owner’s building, or on a unit owner’s front door or its frame, or in a unit owner’s window.