Few topics or disputes can get as emotionally charged as when a homeowners association tells a homeowner that they cannot display a sign or flag in their yard. Often these outward signs are expressions of beliefs which are at the core of these homeowners passions, but exactly opposing those of others, and the resulting arguments can be brutal and ugly.
The success or failure of these disputes is largely up to the HOA, and can reflect badly on your association if the HOA does not tread carefully. Associations have come out of these disagreements looking either weak or overly restrictive and power hungry.
The key to handling these disputes is a thorough understanding by the board of local laws, governing documents, and the rights and restrictions of the homeowners in your community. By understanding these, you can usually come to an agreement.
When it comes to political signs, there is a balance between the homeowners right of free speech, and the rights of the other residents to have a peaceful and beautiful living environment. As such, homeowners are generally allowed to display signs, but are restricted as to placement, size, and timing. For example, an HOA may restrict homeowners from displaying overly large signs, or from displaying them far beyond elections or events.
The same rules generally apply to flags, but residents are additionally restricted as to any placement of the flag that damages property, has an unkempt appearance, or is too large. It is important to note that the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005 protects the rights of homeowners to display the American Flag, as long as the above restrictions are met.
When thinking about flag or sign restrictions, there are several questions that you can ask before you act:
Is the board’s actions in conjunction with laws and governing documents?
As mentioned before, is important to investigate what federal, state, and local laws have to say about HOA’s and the displaying of signs, as well as seeing what your governing documents have to say on the subject. Be sure that any action is in accordance with these laws and regulations.
Are our actions in any way discriminatory or unequal?
If you are treating one group or viewpoint differently than you are another group, this will likely result in embarrassment for your HOA, if not more serious consequences. If you have a rule restricting the displaying of signs or flags, be sure to enforce the rule equally throughout the entire community.
Are any complaints in existence, or are we just opening an unnecessary can of worms?
If there are not currently any complaints regarding signs or flags both in the board and in the community, there is probably no need to delve into the subject and arouse anger within the association.
Do we need legal advice or help?
Because the topic can be a sore one for many and lead to expensive litigation, it is a good idea to consider whether you need the advice of a lawyer to help you settle the dispute. It may be cheaper in the long run to have help from the beginning.
When it comes to flags and signs being displayed in the community, knowing laws and regulations, applying restrictions equally everywhere, and getting the help of a lawyer can all help you avoid embarrassment or expensive court cases, and can keep the peace in your association.