These notes are current as of October 2023.
On Private Property
The First Amendment protects the right of property owners to place campaign signs on their own property, subject to reasonable restrictions. Moreover, lessees (tenants) are permitted to place signs on property they are lawfully renting unless prohibited from doing so by their landlord (lessor).
It is always illegal to place a campaign sign within 100 feet of a polling place. Tenn. Code § 2-7-111.
State and local governments may make content-neutral regulations relating to the display of signs; for example, a city may prohibit large signs that might create a hazard for motorists.
However, starting 60 days before the first ballot is cast in an election, until the day after the election (“Election Season”), the Tennessee Freedom of Speech Act specifically prohibits the state and local governments from:
- Limiting the shape of political signs in someone’s yard (outside of the 100 ft no-campaigning boundary). Tenn. Code § 2-7-143(b)(1)(A).
- Banning signs that are equal to or smaller than 32 square feet (commercial property) or 16 square feet (residential property) in size. Tenn. Code § 2-7-143(b)(1)(B).
Moreover, while the state or local government may enact “reasonable” ordinances limiting the number of signs that a person can put on their property, the Tennessee Freedom of Speech Act (TFOSA) guarantees that property owners have the right to put up at least one campaign sign per candidate or issue during Election Season. Tenn. Code. § 2-7-143(b)(1)(C).
So, for example, during the period before an election, the City of Mt. Pleasant cannot prohibit a homeowner from putting up 10 rectangular 3 ft x 4 ft signs, so long as each sign is for a different candidate or issue (“Biden 2024”, “Smith for U.S. Senate”, “Jones for Congress”, “No on 1”, “Garcia for School Board”, etc.). In 2024 this right extends from 60 days before the first day of early voting; early voting starts on October 16th, so the TFOSA window starts on August 17, 2024, and runs until the day after Election Day (November 6, 2024).
Note that TFOSA primarily applies to signs and posters; three-dimensional objects such as inflatable cartoon characters are not protected.
Homeowners in HOA (Homeowners’ Association) Neighborhoods
Homeowners’ Associations have some powers to compel their members to meet certain aesthetic guidelines to protect the property values in their neighborhood.
However, the Tennessee Freedom of Speech Act has specific rules relating to HOAs. It applies to HOA deeds, covenants, rules, etc. that were created or modified after July 1, 2017. Tenn. Code. § 2-7-143(d).
Homeowners who purchased their home prior to July 1, 2017, may need to consult a lawyer to determine their rights with respect to campaign yard signs.
The TFOSA states that during Election Season:
A homeowners’ association shall not, by covenant, condition, restriction, or rule, prohibit the display of political or campaign posters or signs placed on private property by the owner of the property or any lawful resident of a residence on the property. A homeowners’ association may adopt reasonable covenants, conditions, restrictions, or rules with respect to the placement and removal of political or campaign posters or signs placed on homeowner association common space and private property maintained by the owner or resident, including limiting the size of campaign posters or signs in those common and private property areas to four square feet (4 sq. ft.).
Tenn. Code. § 2-7-143(b)(2).
So, for example, an HOA may limit a homeowner to signs no larger than 4 square feet (for example, the popular 24×18 inch size). Furthermore, an HOA may ban signs entirely outside of Election Season.
It is unclear whether the “one sign per candidate” rule applies in HOA communities, though it likely does; an HOA must be able to demonstrate that its rules are “reasonable” and TFOSA only explicitly grants HOAs the authority to regulate the size, not the number, of signs. Tenn. Code. § 2-7-143(b)(2).
During “Election Season”, renters may place signs on the property they are renting without first obtaining permission from their landlord unless the lease agreement expressly requires the renter to obtain such permission. Tenn. Code § 2-1-143(c).
Public Rights-Of-Way and Property
Tennessee state law permits campaign signs to be placed in public rights-of-way so long as they are not otherwise prohibited by a local ordinance or rule. Tenn. Code § 2-1-116.
Candidates and campaigns are responsible for removing them no later than three weeks after the election’s conclusion. Tenn. Code § 2-1-116.
Signs placed in public rights-of-way are not subject to the Tennessee Freedom of Speech Act. For this reason, local governments may enact ordinances prohibiting signs in public rights-of-way.
Some counties (such as Williamson County) and have chosen to ban political signs in public rights-of-way.
If you live within city limits, we suggest checking with your city’s code enforcement team.
Government employees may not display campaign signs on government property (with one exception: government employees are allowed to display bumper stickers on their personal vehicles, even if those vehicles are parked on government property). Tenn. Code § 2-19-206.
Signs and other campaign materials may not be placed on utility poles or towers. Tenn. Code § 2-19-144.
Signs and other campaign materials may not be placed on mailboxes, according to U.S. Postal Service regulations.
Sign Theft / Vandalism
Sign theft and sign vandalism are crimes. They represent a significant investment by our members and are an important way for us to exercise our freedom of speech. For these reasons, the Maury County Democratic Party does not condone and discourages such acts.
Generally speaking, the theft or vandalism of a campaign sign is a Class A Misdemeanor under the State of Tennessee’s general theft and vandalism statutes. Tenn. Code §§ 39-14-103, 39-14-105, 39-14-408.
Sign theft /vandalism may also involve a criminal trespass, a Class C Misdemeanor. Tenn. Code § 39-14-405.
In some cases, sign theft/vandalism may constitute civil rights intimidation, a Class D Felony. Tenn. Code § 39-17-309.
We recommend that Democrats install surveillance camera devices (such as Ring doorbells) and report evidence of sign theft/vandalism to the Maury County Sheriff’s Department, Columbia Police Department, Mt. Pleasant Police Department, or Spring Hill Police Department. Please do NOT dial “911” unless there is an imminent danger to yourself or others.
Maury County Sheriff’s Office — (931) 388-5151
Columbia Police Department — (931) 388-2727
Mt. Pleasant Police Department — (931) 379-3201
Spring Hill Police Department — (931) 486-2252