When Your Landlord Hearts The Other Candidate
This afternoon, Torontoist noticed two enormous Jane Pitfield signs on the lawn of a Gloucester Street apartment building, which got us to thinking: does a landlord have a right to erect election signs at a building shared by many who might disagree with the endorsement?
The City of Toronto and the Canada Elections Act have very clear rules about the right to place election signs, especially on public property. On private property, any candidate may place a sign with the consent of the owner or occupant, and it’s illegal for anyone to remove the sign without the consent of the respective candidate, owner or occupant.
Any tenant is allowed under law to put-up election signs “on the premises to which the lease relates,” but a landlord can set reasonable restrictions on the size of the posters. Where things become murky is if a tenant wishes to affix a sign to a common shared area like a porch. Windows may also be considered a common element and therefore a sign technically may not be affixed to it, but a City representative told us that a resident reserves the right to allow a sign to be displayed in a window as to be visible from the outside.
In a condominium, the Board of Directors often lawfully restrict placement of any election signs on common-shared elements like windows or balconies for purely aesthetic reasons, including signs in windows that disrupt the consistent appearance of the exterior. In a rented premises, the landlord is allowed to remove any sign he or she wishes if the sign is posted in a common area, even if all tenants want the sign displayed.
Now the sticky part: what if a landlord erects election signs for a candidate whom a tenant detests? Basically, it depends on how the lease is worded and how “the premises” are defined in the lease. Usually a lease will deliver “possession of the premise” when the term starts, which might indicate the inclusion of a front lawn, for example. However, if the landlord maintains the lawn or exterior, they could retain the right to remove a tenant’s sign and erect their own, especially if the definition of the premise is ambiguous in the lease agreement.
Obviously, it really becomes a problem when personal beliefs become involved. Should a tenant be forced to live with a sign that promotes a candidate known for sexist, racist or anti-semitic views? What about something as simple as a disagreement over public transit?
Ethicist Randy Cohen, author of The Good, the Bad and the Difference: How to Tell Right From Wrong in Everyday Situations, addressed a New York Times reader’s similar issue. The reader had a landlord who posted signs supporting an anti-gay proposition she strongly opposed. Cohen believes that the landlord was creating a false impression that his signs proclaimed his tenant’s views, and that even adding his name to the sign would not be justification enough to erect the signs.
The bottom line is what’s in your lease. If it’s ambiguous, you may not have a case and you may have to live with the landlord’s politics. Nevertheless, a landlord’s potential right to raise a placard of his or her choice doesn’t make the action any more ethical.
Torontoist agrees with Cohen that a landlord should never impose personal political views on a tenant, even if legally entitled to. In the case of 70 Gloucester, it certainly is possible that every single resident is voting for Pitfield. But we doubt it.
UPDATE (November 6): The sign lay in pieces this morning. That’s illegal, folks.