By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
The good news is that a Virginia delegate helped a Vietnam veteran convince his HOA to allow him to put up a flag pole for his American flag.
The bad news: it took 20 years to resolve the dispute, and allow an American veteran to assert his rights and display his patriotism.
Last Friday, WRIC Channel 8 News (Richmond) reported that Wyndham Homeowners Association finally told Richard Oulton that he could replace the flagpole he was forced to remove in 2003.
The HOA controversy started in 1999, shortly after Oulton installed a flagpole in his yard. After a four-year legal battle with the developer-controlled HOA, the court ordered the removal of the Henrico County homeowner’s flag pole.
For sixteen years, the homeowner kept trying to get his HOA board to reconsider his request. But the HOA wouldn’t budge.
Then a few months ago, Virginia Delegate John McGuire (District 56), a former Navy Seal, stepped in to help Oulton communicate with his HOA.
The homeowner-controlled board agreed to survey nine of Oulton’s neighbors, to see if any of them would object to displaying the American flag on a pole. All of them approved of putting up a flag pole, in tribute to hundreds of fallen Vietnam vets.
So the flag pole is going back up. A flag raising ceremony is scheduled for April 27.
The story gained national attention once again, and was picked up by Fox News.
After decades of trying, Vietnam veteran allowed to put American flag up outside Henrico home
By: Kristin Smith
Posted: Mar 15, 2019 06:49 PM EDT
Updated: Mar 15, 2019 08:25 PM EDT
HENRICO, Va. (WRIC) — The story sparked national attention: Vietnam veteran ordered to take down the flagpole in his yard.
In 1999, the Wyndham Homeowners Association told Richard Oulton the pole with an American flag on it violated neighborhood by-laws.
When the case went to court, Oulton lost.
On the day he cut the pole down, Oulton said, “I’m standing in my front yard being told my American flag is a visual nuisance and I can’t fly it in support of the troops in Iraq. I think it’s horrible but I have to comply.”
Why did it take so long to resolve this dispute?
The Fox News post generated more than 400 comments, most of them negative about HOAs. Of course, many commenters wonder why it took the HOA 20 years to agree to allow a flag pole in the United States of America.
That part of the long-running saga isn’t reported.
See Fox News report:
Vietnam vet wins HOA’s approval to fly American flag, resolving long-running dispute March 17, 2019 By Robert Gearty | Fox News
Federal law does not help
Some readers might recall that, in 2005, Congress enacted a law making it illegal for HOAs to forbid an American flag display on one’s property. So you would think this issue at Wyndham HOA should have been resolved in 2005 or 2006.
But it wasn’t.
So, despite the law, HOAs can limit flag displays to a few “holidays” per year.
Some HOAs actually fine homeowners for breaking flag display rules. In 2017, the Liberty Condo Association in Boston fined a woman $20 per day for three years, for hanging a flag on her front door. (Note the irony of the name of this community!)
Believe it or not, although an HOA must allow an American flag, it does not have to allow a flag pole. For example, an HOA can limit a resident’s display to a small flag affixed to a front porch or the front door jamb.
You see, due to a great deal of pressure from HOA industry lobbyists, our federal law starts from the assumption that an HOA can enforce unlimited restrictions. It then grants American HOA residents a very limited right to display the American flag, subject to all sorts of HOA rules and conditions.
This is why I am highly skeptical that legislation can solve HOA problems and bitter conflicts over petty nonsense.
Until federal and state laws begin with the reality that the duty of U.S. government is to uphold the rights of the individual — as enumerated in the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution — we’ll see very little progress in reining in HOA abuse of power.
HOA communities are built on a foundation of fear.
Reasonable homeowners and residents may object to an HOA on a power trip over flag displays.
But, unfortunately, few residents are willing to speak up in defense of their neighbor’s rights to express American values and patriotism. Too many are fearful of becoming the HOA’s next target of abuse.
After all, when your HOA can run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, fighting you in court over your audacity to put a small flag in the flowerpot on your front stoop, that’s enough to intimidate most people.
Just ask Larry Murphree, who ended up selling his Florida Tides at Sweetwater condominium townhouse at a loss, to avoid foreclosure by the HOA. Despite court orders in the homeowner’s favor, the HOA kept changing its rules and imposing fines against Murphree for displaying an “unauthorized object” in his flower pot.
And, while some of his neighbors offered words of support privately, they didn’t dare defend the renegade homeowner in public.
So here’s the reason disputes drag on for years.
HOAs, like so many other intolerant political groups, regularly punish Americans for free expression.
That, in turn, has created an environment where people are ashamed to express love for their own country. Where most people are afraid to stand up for what they believe.
And, at the same time, the deafening silence of community association members sends the wrong messages to powerful and privileged HOA boards. Either homeowners and residents approve of draconian HOA rule enforcement — or they simply don’t care enough to fight.
In many cases, HOA-industry stakeholders (developers, HOA managers, and HOA attorneys), insist that the rules must be followed No Matter What. The HOA board operates under the misguided belief that, if it loses, there will be anarchy in the community.
The dispute over a flag pole (or any other petty rule) becomes a power play. A matter of pride and principle.
Emotions take over, instead of logic. Each side fighting for “the cause,” to the bitter end.
Plus, dare I say that there’s money to be made by imposing fines. And, let’s not forget, that attorneys can rack up a fortune in billable hours, whether the HOA wins or loses in court.
Peacemakers are rare
Long-running HOA wars never seem to end, mainly because very few people are peacemakers.
Kudos to Delegate John McGuire, for ending the battle between Richard Oulton and Wyndham Homeowners’ Association, and standing up for American patriotism.
If you want to learn more about McGuire and how he managed to resolve the flag pole issue, listen to this March 2, 2019 podcast of On the Commons with Shu Bartholomew.