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Abstract

This Article outlines the arguments to be made on behalf of residential tenants who display political signs and who encounter threats of eviction, rent increases, and other forms of landlord opposition. In Section II, the Article describes the development of the general principles of constitutional law applicable to disputes between property owners and tenants who wish to use the property owners’ premises as a forum for the expression of the tenants’ ideas and beliefs. Tracing the history of the United States Supreme Court rulings in this area, the authors analyze the waxing and waning of first amendment speech rights, the development of property-based first amendment speech rights, and the recognition of state constitutional free speech rights that are broader than their first amendment counterparts. Section III analyzes the application of freedom of speech principles to disputes between landlords and residential tenants, when the tenants wish to display political signs on the leased property. Section III also presents and analyzes the arguments frequently relied upon by landlords. For the benefit of those tenants residing in states where state constitutional free speech rights have not been liberally construed, the authors discuss the common law property rights of tenants, citing reasons why those rights are superior to the property rights of landlords in the context of disputes over tenant political expression. Finally, in Section IV, the Article concludes with an assessment of the public policy justifications for refusing to enforce contractual waivers (such as rule 13 of the lease in Paulsen v. Seamark) of a tenant’s right to freedom of political expression.