Do Condo Unit Owners Have First Amendment Rights in Illinois?
The answer to the above question about condominium unit owners’ first amendment rights is absolutely yes. Section 18.4 of the Illinois Condominium Property Act provides that no rule or regulation may impair the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States or Section 4 of Article 1 of the Illinois Constitution. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Similarly, Article 1, Section 4 of Illinois’ Constitution states:
All persons may speak, write and publish freely, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty. In trials for libel, both civil and criminal, the truth, when published with good motives and for justifiable ends, shall be a sufficient defense.
Under these provisions, it is clear that any condominium instrument (or a rule or regulation) that has the effect of doing any of the following will not be enforceable:
- Prohibiting the free exercise of a religion;
- Regulating or restricting freedom of speech, including in writings;
- Regulating or restricting freedom of the press; and
- Regulating or restricting the right to assemble peaceably.
These are very broad concepts, and there are very few reported decisions wherein a condo association was sued for violating a unit owner’s First Amendment rights through enforcement of condominium instruments. In Spiegel v. 1618 Sheridan Rd. Condo. Ass’n, Inc., 2022 IL App (1st) 201142-U, ¶ 24, appeal denied, 197 N.E.3d 1067 (Ill. 2022), and cert. denied, 143 S. Ct. 1003 (2023), a unit owner settled with his condominium association, and the Appellate Court ruled that this broad settlement agreement included a claim that the association violated his First Amendment rights when it demanded that it take down certain signs that he installed. The Court did not rule whether the First Amendment was properly invoked, and in that case, the signs he posted in his windows within the condominium included his opinions about members of the board and other unit owners, security issues and maintenance and management of the condominium, including the pool and elevator.
Purtell v. Mason, 527 F.3d 615, 618 (7th Cir. 2008)v, in which a couple who resided in Bloomingdale, Illinois, wrote unflattering messages about some of their neighbors on wooden tombstones which they placed on their front lawn, facing the sidewalk. The couple was in a dispute with those neighbors about storing a 38 foot long recreational vehicle for more than year across the width of the couple’s property. Purtell, 527 F.3d at 617.
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