California bill ensures the right to hang religious displays

A glut of new laws go into effect this month and, while clearly, the Tenant Protection Act of 2019 marked the biggest generational shift in the way rental housing providers do business, there are a number of other laws that have been eclipsed by AB-1482. In the coming weeks, we will cover them, beginning with SB- 652, a law that protects tenants who wish to display religious items like menorahs or crosses outside their homes. A “religious item” is displayed because of sincerely held religious beliefs. (Civil Code section 1940.45(c)(2)).

Landlords and HOA boards, who can be real sticklers on guidelines to ensure their neighborhoods are in accord, cannot ban the display of religious items on homes’ entry doors or door frames, according to the California Legislature. The items cannot be larger than 36 by 12 inches.

SB-652 seems to pick up where the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act (Civil Code sections 4000-6150) left off. That law, enacted in 1985, overhauled in 2012, and updated regularly, prohibits the governing documents of a common interest development from prohibiting the posting or displaying of noncommercial signs, posters, flags, or banners on or in an owner’s separate interest, with some exceptions.

Although lawmakers loathe restrictive covenants or other restrictions that prohibit residents from displaying religious items, the law carves out some exceptions when an item:

  • Threatens the public health or safety.
  • Hinders the opening or closing of any entry door.
  • Violates any federal, state, or local law.
  • Contains graphics, language or any display that is obscene or otherwise illegal.
  • Individually or in combination with any other religious item displayed or affixed on any entry door or door frame that has a total size greater than 36 by 12 square inches, provided it does not exceed the size of the door.

If the landlord or association is performing maintenance, repair or replacement of an entry door or door frame that serves a member’s interest, the member may again display or affix the religious item. Proper notice, of course, must be given to the tenant/member with regard to the temporary removal of the religious item.

Our takes

Bornstein Law applauds the new legislation and while our landlord-tenant practice seems to focus a lot on what tenants can’t do, it’s refreshing to talk about what they can do, that is, practice their religion without interference.

In the long-burning debate over obscenity and First Amendment rights, we’re sure that at some point, some resident somewhere will try to push the envelope and there will be a flare-up but, if so, it will be an isolated incident.