The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Friday, October 31, 2008

Tenants Complain About Landlords Removing Political Signs from Rental Units

Early this year, the Davis City Council passed an ordinance that allowed tenants of rental units in the City of Davis to post political signs in their rental units. The ordinance was to supersede any rental agreement between the property owner and the tenant.

However, the Vanguard has learned that numerous complaints have been lodged from a variety of different occupants of a variety of different apartment complexes throughout the city that this ordinance is not being adhered to. And in some cases, the landlords and property managers are misrepresenting the law to unsuspecting residents.

The Vanguard spoke with Katie Lewis, a renter in the Aggie Square Apartments. She told us that her manager sent a notice to all the tenants saying that the Aggie Square does not allow you to put up signs.
"Dear Residents, we wanted to put out a reminder regarding displaying of signs and other material in your apartment windows. This includes but is not limited to, cartoon characters, political affiliations, music or move paraphernalia. Please refer to the following in your house rules and regulations."
They then quote the lease:
"our lease does state no foil, signs, advertisements, posters or similar displays shall be displayed or affixed to any door, window or exterior wall.

So I do realize that yes that was in the lease and I signed onto it, but they did not say anything specifically about political affiliations in the lease."
When she called to complain, she was told that the ordinance did not apply.
"I brought up the city council ordinance I had heard of, I think Lamar Heystek, he came to a students for Barack Obama meeting a month ago, and he gave a rousing speech, and he's like guys, if your apartment complexes give you trouble about putting up political signs, email me, it's wrong, you're allowed to do it no matter what."
She was told that she could email a formal complaint, but instead of doing that she went to the Democratic Headquarters where she interns.

She went to Brian Micek, the supervisor, and showed him the lease. He makes some calls including one to Aggie Squares.

Brian Micek told the Vanguard:
"When I called the manager's office the person answering the phone told me that their House Rules and Regulations document was above and beyond a standard lease and therefore their residents had all agreed to this policy of not hanging political signs."
But in fact that is not the case.

The city code was written very clearly Section 8 of the 12.01.120 Political campaign signs section of the Municipal code reads:
"Not withstanding any lease to the contrary, no landlord or lessor shall prohibit a tenant lawfully in possession from posting political signs. Political signs may be posted or displayed in the window, on the balcony, or on the door of the premises leased by the tenant in a multifamily dwelling, or from the yard, window, door, balcony, or outside wall of the premises leased by a tenant of a single family dwelling."
Ms. Lewis was concerned more about the principle of the matter than the fact that she was not being allowed to post her Obama sign:
"I don't think it's a big deal, I don't care if an Obama is up in my window or not, I just felt like they were trying to like impede my freedom of speech. I felt it was more like the principle of the matter."
Unfortunately, Katie Lewis was not the only student victimized by properties managers who either were claiming to be unaware of the new ordinance (which doesn't seem plausible) or ignoring the ordinance in hopes that students would not call them on it.

Zusy Clarin of the Suntree Apartments on F Street had a similar problem.
"I called to report the manager to have something fixed in my apartment, she told me that one of their men did a walk-through of my apartment and took out our lawn signs because she said it was the owner's right to have a political sign taken out."
She too believed that it was her right to do so, but did not immediately know about the law.
"I asked her, she seemed to say it was in our contract. I told her that I heard something that it was legal for us to do that. She said no, it was their right to remove signs because they don't want any political signs on their property."
However, like Katie Lewis, she's an intern with Yolo United.
"I'm an intern at the Democratic campaign headquarters, Yolo United, and one of my friends over there, she was at Aggie Square and she that she got a letter from the management saying that she had to take her Obama sign out.

My supervisor Brian Micek said that it was actually legal for us to do that, to post political signs. He read to me the city ordinance."
I have heard several stories from other complexes as well. It seems to be a rather widespread problem despite the clarity of the new city ordinance.

Councilmember Heystek has received a number of complaints. Another was from residents in the Fountain Circle Apartments, who received a notice on Wednesday asking them to take down their signs.

On Facebook, I got a response from someone else who said the same thing was happening at Da Vinci court. The individual was told that despite the ordinance it was in her lease, however, she knew that the ordinance supersedes the lease. But was afraid many others in the complex probably did not know.

City Attorney Harriet Steiner told the California Aggie that the new ordinance supersedes any lease that would prohibit tenants from posting signs.
"The purpose of that ordinance was to permit tenants to put [political] signage in their windows and yards … and to prevent landlords from prohibiting tenants to put signage up."
Councilmember Heystek said:
"The practice of some landlords of curbing the presence of political signs went unchecked until just recently, so the new law will take some getting used to. We certainly need to do a better job of informing tenants, property owners and management companies of the law so that everyone can be in compliance."
Any student who believes there are violations of the ordinance can call the city's code compliance at 757-5646 or the city manager's office at 757-5602.

UPDATE: The city of Davis has sent a letter to Davisville Properties which runs both Aggie Square and Fountain Circle (among others.
---David M. Greenwald reporting