Some states regulate the timing or placement of political yard signs that tend to spring up in the months before an election. Texas takes a largely hands-off approach, forbidding only those signs that block a highway right-of-way or cause a public hazard. Cities and homeowners' associations can and do impose additional restrictions for signs placed in their jurisdictions within limits set by state statute.
Texas State Restrictions on Signage
The Texas Department of Transportation (DOT) is charged with enforcing state laws about the placement of political signs, also called campaign signs. This makes sense since the primary place these signs are forbidden is on and along the state highways.
It is forbidden to position a political sign on or in a public right of way. That means that a political sign cannot be affixed to telephone poles, trees, traffic light poles, sign posts or any other objects near the roads. Posting a sign on other types of public property is likewise forbidden.
Consequences of Breaking the Law
The Texas DOT Department of Transportation will remove any campaign or political signs that are in the right-of-way area. They will also remove any signs that are placed in a location that poses a safety hazard, such as blocking the view of vehicles emerging from a driveway. The owner of the sign may be billed for the costs of removal.
State Restrictions on Content
While Texas does not regulate political content of a sign, the statutes do impose several content requirements, which are found in the Election Code, Sections 259.001 and 255.001.
Section 259.001 of the state Election Code requires a specific notice to be written on each and every political advertising sign. It must state:
"NOTICE: IT IS A VIOLATION OF STATE LAW (CHAPTERS 392 AND 393, TRANSPORTATION CODE), TO PLACE THIS SIGN IN THE RIGHT-OF-WAY OF A HIGHWAY."
Anyone who enters into a contract to print or make a political advertising sign that does not contain this notice is guilty of a misdemeanor in Texas. This is also the case for a person who instructs someone else to put up a political advertising sign that does not contain the notice.
Additional Content Requirements
Section 255.001 of the Texas Election Code adds an additional content requirement for all campaign signs. It applies to all political advertising or campaign signs or writings that contain "express" advertising. The advertising must state that it is political advertising and must also include the full name of one of these individuals:
- Person who paid for the political advertising.
- Political committee authorizing the political advertising.
- Candidate or specific-purpose committee supporting the candidate, if the political advertising is authorized by the candidate.
While questions may arise as to what is considered "express" advertising, the law states that any political advertising authorized by a candidate, their agent or political committee is deemed to contain express advocacy. This carries a civil punishment for an infraction of a fine up to $4,000.
Municipal Restrictions on Posting Signs
Although Texas state does not impose many rules on the placement of political signs, the state laws allow cities and counties to impose additional restrictions. That means that anyone posting a campaign poster or political sign will want to check with local authorities to learn about their laws.
While state law allows cities and counties to impose some restrictions on political signs, it also sets limits on what kind of restrictions are possible and when they can apply to political signs. Section 259.003 of the Texas Election Code limits the regulation of political signs by cities. If someone wishes to place a sign on private property with the consent of the property owner, a municipality cannot:
- Prohibit the sign from being placed.
- Require a permit or approval of the municipality or impose a fee for the sign to be placed.
- Restrict the size of the sign.
- Provide for a charge for the removal of a political sign that is greater than the charge for removal of other signs regulated by ordinance.
Rules for Billboards
This restriction on municipal authority does not apply to a billboard bearing a sign with a political message on a temporary basis if the billboard is generally available for commercial advertising or other messages that are not primarily political. Nor does it apply to signs that are more than 8 feet high, with an area greater than 36 feet, and that are illuminated or have any moving elements.
Homeowner Restrictive Covenants
If you live in a development governed by a property owners' association (HOA), Texas law allows such groups to adopt certain restrictions regarding political signs. However, like with municipalities, the state Election Code restricts the types of permissible rules an HOA can enact.
Texas Election Code Section 259.002 is entitled "Regulation of Display of Political Signs by Property Owner's Association." It limits the length of time that a property owners' association can prohibit a property owner from displaying on their own property a political sign about a candidate or a measure up for a vote. These signs cannot be forbidden from 90 days before election day to 10 days after the election. The association can forbid political signs at other times.
Homeowners' Association Authority Over Political Signs
HOAs also have authority to limit a property owner to displaying more than one sign for each candidate or measure they support and to require that a sign be ground-mounted. The state statute law also permits an HOA to prohibit a sign that:
- Contains roofing material, siding, paving materials, flora, one or more balloons or lights, or any other similar building, landscaping or nonstandard decorative component.
- Is attached in any way to plant material, a traffic control device, a light, a trailer, a vehicle or any other existing structure or object.
- Includes the painting of architectural surfaces.
- Threatens the public health or safety.
- Is larger than 4 feet by 6 feet.
- Violates a law.
- Contains language, graphics or any display that would be offensive to the ordinary person.
- Is accompanied by music or other sounds, or by streamers, or is otherwise distracting to motorists.
A property owners' association may remove a sign displayed in violation of a restrictive covenant permitted by this section.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.