Now comes the Rolling Hills Estates, Kissimmee, HOA before the court of public opinion: “You cannot fly a Puerto Rican flag outside your home because it violates HOA rules. You must take it down or be fined.”
The Rolling Hills Estates’ edict has hit raw nerves, even if it’s technically right. And it’s a prime example of why HOAs are the boon and bane of many a homeowner’s existence.
For one, HOAs maintain property values, which most homeowners desire after plunking down tens of thousands of dollars for their four walls. But at the same time, HOAs tend to attract board members who enjoy getting into people’s business, oftentimes to an extreme, and to the detriment of the credibility of the board itself. (I say this as a one-time HOA, or homeowners association, board member who witnessed stupid stuff.)
Rolling Hills Estates is a subdivision in Kissimmee built between 1998 and 2000; each home pays about $500 in annual HOA dues, not including maintenance.
Here’s why the Rolling Hills Estates HOA notice has caused such an uproar:
It has singled out a military veteran who was willing to lay down her life for the United States. Boom!
Each of the 50 states and territories has its own flag, and the Puerto Rican flag is akin to a state flag. No overreaction necessary.
Perhaps Rolling Hills Estates, with homes with a median value of $282,000, is inconsistent in its application of the HOA convenant against certain flags or banners. If so, this may help the Puerto Rican homeowners in their fight against the association.
Plus, the federal Fair Housing Act may provide the homeowners another basis for contesting the HOA since the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on a homeowner’s race, color religion, gender, familial status, disability, or national origin.
The HOA has stepped into a big pile of poop, generating poor publicity for itself far and wide. The story, originally aired by WFTV-Channel 9 in Orlando, has traveled throughout the states and Puerto Rico, and with good reason.
Kissimmee Is Mostly Latino
Kissimmee is over half Latino, mostly Puerto Rican! In fact, the area is the epicenter of modern-day migration from Puerto Rico and other states. In a mirror image of the city, nearly half the Latinos living in Rolling Hills Estates are also Puerto Rican. Wrong city, wrong fight, wrong flag.
More important, Puerto Ricans react viscerally to the rejection of the flag of our forefathers, based on a shameful chapter of U.S. history. For at least nine years in the 1940s and 50s – but in practice much longer than that – it was against the law to fly the Puerto Rican flag in Puerto Rico, part of a policy pushed by United States overlords, and which was known as la mordaza or gag rule, to discourage independence.
Qué Bonita Bandera
Today Puerto Ricans fly the Puerto Rican flag everywhere as part of an in-your-face stream of consciousness. Yo soy boricua pa’ que tú lo sepas. Just so you know, or in case you were wondering, or in case you forgot (or in case I forget), I am Puerto Rican.
Which is why, taken as a whole, Rolling Hills Estates’ laying down of the law is doomed to fail. In fact, it has already lost the battle and may be about to lose the war of publicity.
Imagine if you couldn’t fly the United States flag in the United States.
Stars and Stripes
But in fact, NO homeowners association anywhere in the nation can ban the United States flag; federal law protects your right to fly the Stars and Stripes. See the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005. (HOAs also cannot prohibit satellite dish antennas, considered a First Amendment infringement.)
In addition, Florida statutes regarding HOAs expressly permit flying the flag of the state of Florida, as well as flags representing “the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, or a POW-MIA flag, regardless of any covenants, restrictions, bylaws, rules, or requirements of the association.” And homeowners can run it up a flagpole in the middle of their lawn, if they wish. See statute.
The Puerto Rican flag and other state flags are not covered in the state statutes, and an HOA can rightly prohibit them – so long as the covenant is not singling out this particular state flag or that particular family or ethnicity, etc. In other words, as long as there is no bias.
Florida HOAs Are Powerful
HOAs in Puerto Rico are loosey-goosey; regulations are not strictly enforced. But in the state of Florida, HOAs have a lot of power, and they appear to acquire more power – and potential for abuse – with each legislative session, particularly after the housing foreclosure crisis of the 2000s that pushed many HOAs into financial crisis as well.
People have lost their homes for nonpayment of mandatory HOA dues after associations placed liens on their properties. All perfectly legal.
Many HOAs dictate the color you can paint your home, minimum square footage, the type of fencing erected, home addition construction, tree removal, where you can or cannot park your car and RV, whether you can rent out a room on AirBnB (a big, ongoing fight). My subdivision prohibits clotheslines, but is silent on flag flying. (Hmmm.)
These and similar rules are established in the name of protecting or maintaining the value and desirability of the subdivision.
Buyers, read your HOA covenants. Be vigilant. And beware.
˜˜María Padilla, Editor