Q&A: Campaigning or Coercion?

Q. Can a current board member advertise his re-election, or go around knocking on each door and telling owners who to vote for? Is this legal?

            —Feeling Pressured

A. “The short answer to this question is: yes, it is legal, though it may be a nuisance and possibly contrary to certain provisions of the specific governing documents involved,” says Scott Eriksen, partner in Perkins & Anctil in Westford, Massachusetts.

“We see this type of question come up in the context of a number of resident-to-resident communications: whether it is an election scenario like this or a petition to seek rule or covenant changes, or any number of other social activities. Generally speaking, there is no law in the Commonwealth which would prohibit any residents from approaching other residents and soliciting their vote or support for an amendment, etc. Indeed, to the contrary, there is legal precedent in Massachusetts which stands for the proposition that a community board may not seek prior restraints on resident speech even when that speech is or may be offensive or insulting. 

“If a community is concerned about these types of communications becoming a nuisance or creating disharmony, the best approach may be to adopt specific rules and policies designed to promote an accepted practice of communication. These can help to steer any resident communications in a productive and perhaps more acceptable fashion. 

“For example, in the case of elections, the board could adopt a policy that incorporates or encourages the use of ‘candidate nights’ or other such platforms. These mechanisms allow those interested in seeking office to communicate to the community at large without going door-to-door to make their case. Also, while it may be difficult or unlawful to expressly prohibit certain speech, the board could also adopt no solicitation and no loitering rules to attempt to curb unwanted behavior as well.”

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