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January 9, 2008

Free Speech Victory for Washington State Tenants!

The Washington Supreme Court today struck down a Seattle Housing Authority rule that prohibited public housing tenants from placing any type of sign on their apartment doors.

Eric Dunn of the Northwest Justice Project’s Seattle office represented the Resident Action Council, which successfully sued to enjoin the Seattle Housing Authority when it refused to withdraw or modify its near-total ban on tenant signs. The Resident Action Council is a non-profit organization made up of elected tenant representatives from public housing developments.

In the 5-4 decision, the Court held that the rule violated the U.S. and Washington Constitutions because the SHA had “failed to meet its burden of justifying a restriction on speech” particularly involving a “residential sign” which is recognized as a unique medium of communication.

“The general rule is that the tenant receives the right to possess and use the house, the yard, and everything else necessary to the use of the leased premises. An apartment lease operates on the same principle as does a lease of a single family house.” And “An obvious purpose of the unit doors is to permit egress and ingress. However, that purpose is neither incompatible with expressive activity nor the sole purpose of this property….Here, each unit door passed as appurtenant to the lease premises. In the eyes and minds of tenant and the public, the outer surface of the door represents the outer boundary of the tenants’ homes….A sign placed on a unit door by the resident under these circumstances is a residential sign [and thus protected speech under the U.S. and Washington constitutions].”

Congratulations to the Resident Action Council and Eric Dunn for their victory! Feel free to contact Eric Dunn with questions at 206-464-1519, ext. 234