By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Disputes involving restrictive covenants are very common in homeowners’ associations, even small housing subdivisions such as Nestlewood Estates in Jamison (Bucks County), Pennsylvania.
The 14-home neighborhood was recently featured on Fox 29 News (WTXF). Homeowners Phil and Gail Wurst are fighting back against an HOA rule that restricts display of military flags.
According to the report, Pennsylvania law is unclear as to whether military flags may be displayed year round, or only on designated holidays. The HOA President takes the position that state law only allows display of the Wursts’ Marine Corp flag on holidays. The homeowners say that state law gives them the right to display their military flag any day of the year. The Wursts say they are willing to sue Nestlewood Estates HOA to prove their point.
Flag Fight: Man says HOA won’t let him fly Marine Corps flag
POSTED: JUL 25 2018 09:38PM EDT
VIDEO POSTED: JUL 25 2018 10:36PM EDT
UPDATED: JUL 26 2018 10:40AM EDT
Jamison, Pa. (WTXF) – A military family wants to fly a Marine Corps flag, but the homeowners association is saying not so fast—rules are rules. But do rules outweigh laws?
Phil and Gail Wursta moved into the 14 home Nestlewood Estates community last year. When Phil’s son Jon, a U.S Marine, came home to visit in the spring, they replaced the American flag that waved in front of their home with a U.S Marine Corps flag.
“I wanted to show that respect to him and it was beyond my wildest imagination that someone would have a problem with the United States Marine Corps flag,” Phil said.
He got an email from the president of the homeowners’ association that the rules state that “only an American flag is allowed.” That one exception could lead to more.
The Pennsylvania statute isn’t exactly clear: On one hand: “An association may not prohibit the outdoor display of one American flag, Commonwealth flag and military flag. But then it reads: “regulations regarding the display of a military flag must permit the flying (on military holidays)…”
Read more (Video):
Clearly, the Pennsylvania legislature is partially to blame for enacting statute that is vague and subject to opposing interpretations. But, of course, the state Legislature is also responsible for enabling association-governed communities with broad legal authority to enforce covenants and enact rules, subject to almost no accountability. (To be fair, that’s true across the U.S.)
Why do so many HOA disagreements wind up in the courtroom?
It’s safe to assume that any aggrieved homeowner in Nestlewood has the means to pay for an attorney to assert or defend their private property rights. (According to public records, last year one home sold in the small subdivision for $718,000.)
However, with only 14 homes in the HOA, owners of 13 other properties may end up paying dearly for litigation over this minor flag issue, unless neighbors are able resolve the dispute in a way that avoids a costly legal battle.
The outside observer has to wonder why the Wursts cannot simply walk door-to-door and engage in face-to-face discussion with each of their neighbors.
If most of the Wursts neighbors agree with them, it would be easy to override the power of the HOA board, and, specifically, the HOA President who seems to think it’s so important to force the Wursts to take down their Marine Corp flag.
It should be relatively simple to get a supermajority of members to vote to amend the covenants and to allow for year-round display of military flags, or, conversely, to remove flag restrictions from the CC&Rs (Covenants, conditions, and restrictions).
But, instead of neighbors talking to one another, a couple of attorneys appear to be posturing for a lawsuit.
Why? What’s really behind this dispute over the display of a Marine Corp flag?
Is this merely a matter of a board President’s obsession with HOA rule enforcement? Or is there an underlying personal conflict or HOA financial dispute among neighbors in Nestlewood?