A High Water Mark in the Annals of Clueless Homeowner’s Associations

Some jackass HOA tells a 90-year-old Medal of Honor winner he can’t have a flagpole in his front yard.

For laughs and giggles, here’s why Van T. Barfoot won his Medal of Honor, from the citation itself:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 23 May 1944, near Carano, Italy. With his platoon heavily engaged during an assault against forces well entrenched on commanding ground, 2d Lt. Barfoot (then Tech. Sgt.) moved off alone upon the enemy left flank. He crawled to the proximity of 1 machinegun nest and made a direct hit on it with a hand grenade, killing 2 and wounding 3 Germans. He continued along the German defense line to another machinegun emplacement, and with his tommygun killed 2 and captured 3 soldiers. Members of another enemy machinegun crew then abandoned their position and gave themselves up to Sgt. Barfoot.

Leaving the prisoners for his support squad to pick up, he proceeded to mop up positions in the immediate area, capturing more prisoners and bringing his total count to 17. Later that day, after he had reorganized his men and consolidated the newly captured ground, the enemy launched a fierce armored counterattack directly at his platoon positions. Securing a bazooka, Sgt. Barfoot took up an exposed position directly in front of 3 advancing Mark VI tanks. From a distance of 75 yards his first shot destroyed the track of the leading tank, effectively disabling it, while the other 2 changed direction toward the flank. As the crew of the disabled tank dismounted, Sgt. Barfoot killed 3 of them with his tommygun. He continued onward into enemy terrain and destroyed a recently abandoned German fieldpiece with a demolition charge placed in the breech.

While returning to his platoon position, Sgt. Barfoot, though greatly fatigued by his Herculean efforts, assisted 2 of his seriously wounded men 1,700 yards to a position of safety. Sgt. Barfoot’s extraordinary heroism, demonstration of magnificent valor, and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire are a perpetual inspiration to his fellow soldiers.

Dear homeowners association: When a Medal of Honor recipient wants to have a flagpole in his front yard, you say “Yes, sir. By all means. Thank you, sir.” Because you know what? Dude’s earned that damn flagpole, and you all look like officious pricks for telling him he can’t have it because it messes with your neighborhood’s feng shui. Please get over yourselves as soon as you possibly can.

Really. This is just new levels of stupid. 90-year-old Medal of Honor recipient. Takes a special level of cluelessness to try to take away that man’s flagpole.

156 Comments on “A High Water Mark in the Annals of Clueless Homeowner’s Associations”

  1. As an attorney, I’ve handled a lot of HOA cases on behalf of individual homeowners. I totally agree with Janice. HOAs are run by the kind of people who want the power to tell their neighbors what to do.

    You know, assholes.

  2. I just bought my first house. I specifically looked for a house with no HOA and found one. This is a good example of why.

    I hate HOAs and find the concept repugnant.

  3. This is why I live in a 70 year old house in a post-war neighborhood. Real city blocks, corner stores, and no stupid HOA. Does this mean sometimes my neighbors do things that annoy me? (Yes. My next door neighbor keeps her grass ridiculously long and “trims” it with a weed trimmer rather than cutting it.) But it also means that no one is telling me what *I* can do, either.

  4. I was actually going to come in on the side of the HOA on the grounds that rules, however stupid, are rules and they can’t selectively enforce just because the dude KILLED ENEMIES WITH GRENADES and then CARRIED HIS BUDDIES TO SAFETY LIKE HE WAS FORREST GUMP, but then I read “There is no provision in the community’s rules expressly forbidding flagpoles …. the board ruled against … deciding that free-standing flag poles are not aesthetically appropriate”, so, you know, screw them.

  5. Just last night I was watching Ken Burns’ very fine “The War”, specifically the episode about the siege of Bastogne. When the Germans came to the surrounded 101st with a written offer of surrender General McAuliffe replied with just one word


    Hey, homeowner’s association picking on a man whose service and sacrifice is the reason you aren’t speaking German right now…NUTS.

  6. insanity… then again most of the country doesn’t even know how to display a flag properly these days so I’m not sure why I’m surprised… and HOA are always automatically suspect…

  7. AlanM:

    “rules, however stupid, are rules and they can’t selectively enforce [them]”

    Sure they could. These rules are not laws, and even laws can have exceptions carved out of them. If the HOA wanted to say ‘No flagpoles unless you happen to be a Medal of Honor recipient,” what’s to stop them?

  8. Dear homeowners association: When a Medal of Honor recipient wants to have a flagpole in his front yard, you say “Yes, sir. By all means. Thank you, sir.” Because you know what? Dude’s earned that damn flagpole

    And their bullying would somehow be less obnoxious if Barfoot had come back from Italy with nothing more notable than a dose of the clap from a very grateful signora? FFS, from my reading of the story it was on his property and posed absolutely no threat to anyone’s health or safety.

    I agree with you that the HOA needs to get a grip and a life; but Sgt. Barfoot’s service record, distinguished as it is, should matter.

  9. I suspect you mean “shouldn’t” there, and my response is, why shouldn’t it? MoH recipients are by law conferred certain special privileges; I don’t see tacking on the ability to tell the local HOA to fuck off when they tell you to take down your flagpole as a problem.

    Your larger argument seems to be the HOAs shouldn’t be in the business of basically being assholes, and if that’s the case, I agree wholeheartedly.

  10. It seems to me that HOAs particularly attract them folks who absolutely cherish the chance to act the petty tyrant over their neighbors. I despise them. all of them. It’s just too bad you can’t successfully sue someone for being an asshole.

  11. but then I read “There is no provision in the community’s rules expressly forbidding flagpoles …. the board ruled against … deciding that free-standing flag poles are not aesthetically appropriate”, so, you know, screw them.

    Exactly. I see this over and over. No “standards” other than the whims of whoever happens to be running the HOA.

    I could tell you stories…

  12. Obviously this guy is pretty goddamned awesome and kicked some righteous ass, but honestly, I get equally annoyed any time *anybody* gets flack from a HOA about flying a flag.

    (Imagine lengthy indignant rant about flags, symbols, freedom, whatnot)

    My father bought my mother a 25 foot flagpole for her birthday one year. The HOA got a bug in their collective asses about it (although it was not forbidden) and sent over an emissary.

    “Why did you have a flag pole installed?”
    “My wife wants to fly a flag.”
    “What flag?”
    “Mostly the American flag, although we might fly state flags if we have out of town guests.”
    “Just on special occasions?”
    “Uh, no, every day.”
    “Are you a veteran?”
    “Is she?”
    (blank stare from HOA idiot)
    “She likes flag poles. And flying flags. Every day. So…we’re going to.”

    After that the HOA went back to harrassing them about weeds and random crap.

    Their next house had no HOA.

    It also had a 30 foot flag pole.

  13. They shouldn’t just ‘let’ this guy put a flagpole up, they should put one up FOR him. This guy is like another Audie Murphy fer chrissake. Yeesh. Somebody get that guy a couple pineapples and a tommy gun and let him settle their hash.

  14. HOA’s are a perfect example of a good idea implemented poorly. I lived in a neighborhood where my next door neighbors decided that parking on the front lawn instead of the driveway (ten feet away, no other cars in it) was a good idea, and simple maintenance was beneath them. You don’t have a lot of recourse there, and good luck trying to sell your house without taking a huge hit.

    I suspect with fairly strict wording and clear standards, they can be a good thing. By fault or design, they never seem to be set up that way.

  15. I have no problem with HOAs, as long as I have a choice not to live in one. I figure anytime there is a position of power, no matter how trivial, there will eventually be someone who occupies that position who will then abuse that power.

  16. MG at #10: Hyperbole much? there’s no logical reason why, even in the ridiculously unlikely event that teh nazis had Conquored the World, that they’d enforce any sort of “German Only” policy. But the homeowner’s association is still a bunch of idiots, not for telling a MOH recipient not to fly a flag, but for telling ANY American not to.

  17. I just saw that there are already 29 pages of comments on the Richmond-Herald story…

    I’ll be surprised if the order is still in effect tomorrow. Or if it is, if the HOA office is still standing.

  18. Probably stupid, but I went to the law firms site and left a message suggesting the “medal of honor” clause. I had the image of 40,000 people a day – I say 40,000 people a day – walkin in, singing a bar of Alice’s …

    wait, er, um… I think you get the idea :)

  19. Holy crap! This guy went mano a mano with a tank! and won!

    He may be 90 years old, but I won’t be betting on the HOA if he decides to take them out.

  20. John Scalzi@14:

    You suspect correctly, as well as have proof why my brilliant career in copy editing isn’t going to happen any time soon.

    I only say Barfoot’s military record shouldn’t be relevant, because everybody should have the right to tell officious arseholes to get off their God-damned lawn. And while I don’t know what social norms apply in the great state of Virginia, but I was always taught to respect my elders –especially the ones who have a working knowledge of firearms.

  21. And on top of everything else, this is in VIRGINIA.

    With all the military located in Virginia, that HOA hasn’t the chance of the proverbial celluloid cat chasing the asbestos dog through Hell.

    One does not beard the lion in its den, nor a military hero in Virginia…

  22. I’m coming up on 6 years in my house.

    When we were house hunting, we came across a surprising number of HOA neighborhoods in places you wouldn’t expect it. Now, maybe that’s just me. I expect HOAs in ritzy nabes like Sylvania and Ottawa Hills. Not so much in North Toledo, where it’s very solidly Blue Collar. And yet…

    Hubby thought an HOA would be a great thing, keep the rowdies in line, that sort of thing. Until he saw that the HOA got to control everything from the color of your house and what kind of flowers you could plant to whether or not – I shit you not – you could park your car in your driveway or were required to conceal it in the garage. He changed his tune quickly.

    We live in an adorable little blue Cape Cod, with whatever fucking flowers I want in the yard and NO HOA. One nosy neighbor wanted to get one started last year, and got an earful of “Fuck no!” from everyone on the block.

  23. Just read several posts over at the Richmond Times-Dispatch and was quite pleased.

    The second post is a businessman who says his firm is prepared to start a legal fund with a donation of several thousand dollars.

    Third post is a person in the mortgage industry who will never use Coates and Davenport again and will advise others to do the same. Partially due to outrage, and partially because they clearly lack the professional foresight to tell a client to stop something stupid and harmful to themselves (see “dropping home values when run by douchebags”).

    4th post quotes the Governor of Virgina supporting and preparing to fight for Col. Barfoot.

    heh heh heh.


  24. This guy is a bad motherfucker.

    I felt compelled to say it just so. And then I walked around for ten minutes quoting Cotton from king of the hill about how many guys he killed in the war.

    HOAs aren’t all bad though. As much as I support the I can do what I damn well please in my own damn property, these groups have their benefits. Particularly when your neighbor sees fit to not mow their grass ever and keep rusted out hulks of scrap car metal in their lawn as ‘fix er up’ opportunities. Try selling your house for peak value in that neighborhood.

    Certainly not standing up for these folks. That a committee can overrule something not in the rules seems a bit on the ass hattery side. But, you tend to hear a lot more about the bad stories then you do about the day to day no problem relations. In general, I don’t think they’re bad.

    In specific, I think if the 90 year old medal of honor recipient (Not winner, on account of his earning it by killing fiddy nazis) wants to go Rambo on this HOAs ass after they drew first blood, well, I sure as hell wouldn’t convict him.

    I think the medal of honor should come with a get out of jail free card to be used at any one time of your choosing.

  25. Ah, another story of insanity coming from my former neighbors in Henrico county, VA. This would be the same county those rednecks stole a preacher’s 6-foot high Obama sign last year.

    So yeah, officious pricks and rednecks. Accurate picture of southside Virginia.

  26. The best quote I have ever found to describe HOA politics is Kissinger’s quote on academic politics:

    (their) fights are more brutal than our fights in the real world because the stakes are so low, so the passions are very high.

  27. Other Bill.

    Not entirely sure I’d want EVERY medal of Honor winner to have that power. But it sure is a fun image.

    “Excuse me, did I ever show you my medal-of-honor-get-out-of-jail-free card? No? Well, since i still have it, you might want to rethink your policies about my lawn.”

    Maybe they do all deserve it. It’d be most powerful if left unused, anyway.

  28. Someone should tape the citation to the head of the HOA’s front door and highlight the phrase “securing a bazooka.” Problem solved.

  29. So, the guy took on three Tigers with a bazooka frontally? The issues of respect aside, you’d have to be soft in the head to pick a fight with someone willing to try that, even if he’s 90.

  30. He also has part of a highway named after him in Mississippi, yet can’t put a flagpole in his yard in Virginia. Yeah, that’s balanced.

  31. I think we are missing a teaching moment here.

    I mean, somewhere along the line there must have been a meeting among some reps of the HOA and the law firm, where they discussed and agreed upon a course action which ended up in sending that exquisitely dumb letter.

    Someone must have said, in form or substance, let’s send a cease-and-desist letter. And someone said Mr.(or Ms.) Junior Associate here will draft it. And someone more senior signed it and sent it.

    AND AT NO POINT DID ANYONE SAY, Hmm.. how’s this 90-year old medal of honor recipient going to react? How will this look if it gets in the press?

    Because if anyone had said that, the only possible answer would have been, “We are going to look like SUCH assholes.” And the letter would never have been sent.

  32. Why do HOAs even exist? Every “benefit” I ever hear about that they provide is something that can be provided by local government. They hire a company to plow the snow off the streets? Why isn’t your municipal government doing that? Grass growing long enough to offend you? There’s probably a bylaw that says how long it can be. If that bylaw has a length that you think is too long, campaign for people who will change it.

  33. Haven’t these people ever heard of the concept of a “variance”? You know, those things that zoning boards give out all the damn time. I know this is an HOA, but the idea is the same. They should let the guy have his flagpole and go back to worrying about the length of their neighbors’ grass.

  34. As if I needed another example of why not to live in a HOA. Some of the restrictions are just silly (no chain link fences in one that I know of).

    Besides, what kind if idiot tells a Medal of Honor recipient he can’t fly his flag from a proper flag pole?

  35. General rule of thumb: If a HOA takes on such an issue and the board does not conclude that refusing the request is going to make them look like the world’s biggest bunch of putzes, then in fact the HOA board is the world’s biggest bunch of putzes.

  36. I’m going to dissent, here.

    First off, if you move into a neighborhood with an HOA, you’ve already agreed to abide by the rules of architectural harmony it sets out. Most HOAs have an architectural control committee that has to approve ANY changes to the outside of one’s house. Whether something is specifically allowed or not in the bylaws isn’t the point: The point is that if you’re going to make changes that aren’t in the same general family as the rest of the neighborhood, you have to get them approved.

    Second, the guy already had a means of displaying a flag on his front porch. Why did he need a pole? And what size pole are we talking, here? 10′? 30′? Some massive behemoth best suited for the top of a skyscraper?

    Being former military–even decorated–doesn’t give people the right to stomp all over rules they’ve already agreed to. While I appreciate the guy’s service, he really should have thought ahead about what he wanted before he moved there.

  37. Also, HOAs have their point. If they keep my neighbor from painting his house Barbie pink and installing a giant disco ball in his back yard (thereby sinking my property value), then yay.

    They don’t have to be draconian, and most good ones will have coups if the ACC starts getting out of hand (you can plant white peonies, but not yellow ones! Rarr!)

    Also, skipjim? Chain-link fences are ugly, and best suited for WalMart parking lots. Bleh. ;)

  38. Geez,

    First I would have wanted to shake Mr. Barfoot’s hand.

    Then I would have offered to buy him the flag…


  39. Tal,

    If you read the thing, it says this wasn’t a rule. There was actually nothing saying he couldn’t have the pole. They met later and decided they didn’t find it aesthetically pleasing, and then told him to remove it.

    He did not move there with that listed as a rule he had to follow because no such rule existed.

  40. Maybe they were just jealous because they realized that his flagpole was bigger and mightier than any of theirs could ever hope to be?

    (Sorry, someone had to say it.)

  41. Joel @ 39

    Yeah, I’m not sure how practical it would be to have a bunch of random people running with ge out of jail free cards. But, it sure would be interesting. By definition they’re people who know how to get things done. It’d be interesting to see what they ultimately burn it on.

    On the other hand I also think every one should get one set of James bond style missles behind their headlights. So, objectively speaking, I may not be the best judge on that sort of public policy.

    Brad @ 47

    That’s exactly the image I had in my head. Except with a walker. Because, you know, the guy is 90. But I’d take it without the walker just the same.

    Tal @ 50

    In general I agree. Particularly about the chain link fence. But, in specific, it wasn’t a rule when he moved in. And apparently still isn’t. And besides, the guy is 90. How long could it possibly be an issue for someone who would be so brash to consider a state sized American flag an eye sore? Although it is probably just alsomething like five feet.

  42. Meh, HOAs are only as bad as the people involved in them. In my neighborhood, the HOA is working hard with the people of the neighborhood to fight petty vandalism and drug dealers. The HOA actively engages the residents, and encourages participating in meetings. If people have issues with their HOAs, maybe they should think about getting involved in them and helping to make change from the inside.

    And HOA rules are not merely suggestions, as some have opined. For many (if not most) HOAs, they’re part of the purchase contract. By buying the property I agreed to follow the bylaws and the CC&Rs for the HOA. If I don’t like ’em, I can either campaign for them to be changed or I can get out of my contract by selling the property.

    As for this particular case, yeah, sounds like a stereotypical “busybody” HOA board. If it’s not explicitly against the rules (it likely is indirectly against them), then they should have talked with the homeowner. On the other hand, he knowingly violated the rules (he put the flagpole up after having the request denied by the board) and threw the HOA board the middle finger. Sounds like he willfully was in violation CC&Rs and knew better, service to the country notwithstanding.

  43. Personally I’d acknowledge our collective debt to this guy and would have made a different decision if I were on the homeowners board. Also, I usually put personal freedom ahead of property rights. However…

    Assuming that the gentleman freely chose to live in a HOA neighborhood, then I’m also going to assume that he wanted to be able to tell his neighbors what THEY could do on THEIR property.
    Goose/gander, live/die by the sword, you know the drill.

    Also, I feel compelled to point out that what the man was supposedly fighting for when he earned the medal was definitely NOT the kind of reflexive adoration of all things Military that’s become common in recent years. Maybe this isn’t the proper occasion to say so, but I’m just sick of that mindset.

  44. Reminds me of something my grandfather once told me…

    “Rules are made for the guidance of wise men and the blind obedience of fools”

    Probably something he read somewhere, as he was not that eloquant in real life, but more than suitable for this situation.

  45. John @56: Given the likely assessment of the outcome here, I’m not exactly sure how one could claim he “knew better” than to keep up the flagpole, given that the factual outcome of his keeping it up appears to be substantially more satisfying and pleasant for him than taking it down would have been. This is one of the cases where “de facto” trumps “de jure”, and he presumably knew them both — whereas your argument is limited to “de jure”.

    So, yeah, maybe saying it’s flagrant violation of rules that he agreed to is a valid and relevant argument. He’s still clearly going to get away with it.

  46. There is no legitimate or justifiable reason for the existence of HOA’s. You pay outrageous fees to find out, “Hey, guess what. We supercede all local laws and can make you squander your life savings to fit your house into our definition of pretty. You’re welcome.”

    Fortunately, I leave an old postwar neighborhood. The worst that’s happened is our hoarder neighbor didn’t mow his lawn all summer last year.

    I’ve never been charged a fee to be told my house is the wrong color and I have to use a special paint sold by the HOA president’s brother-in-law.

    Yes, I have to mow my own lawn, but guess what. My lawn looks good and all I paid for was gas for the mower and weed killer.

  47. “Why do HOAs even exist?”

    Mostly racial and class bigotry, as far as I can tell.

    They’re called “shadow governments,” technically. They are enabled by the US land property-rights system. Most new developments have them. They are governments in all but name and can even require that residents pay fees, which are taxes in all but name, and courts have held that they are not subject to inconvenient rules like the First Amendment–Mr. Barfoot may lose his case.

    The basics of HOA law, over at Nolo Press.

  48. To be clear, I don’t have a hate-on for HOAs in a general sense; we had one in Virginia and it was just fine, and it was actually useful, as there were a number of common areas in the neighborhood that wouldn’t have been mowed or tended without everyone pooling their resources.

    I do have problems when HOAs act capriciously, as this one seems to have done, and I also think a Medal of Honor winner deserves leeway to have a flag pole.


    “I feel compelled to point out that what the man was supposedly fighting for when he earned the medal was definitely NOT the kind of reflexive adoration of all things Military that’s become common in recent years.”

    I feel compelled to point out that you’re conflating your own dislike of deference to the military with what this fellow was “supposedly fighting for.” And more to the point, noting that a Medal of Honor recipient has earned the right to have a flagpole in his front yard if he wants one is not the same as a “reflexive adoration” of the military in a general sense. It’s recognition of extreme bravery in particular relating to this man. And I have no real problem saying that this man in particular has earned a flagpole in his front yard.

  49. I was on our HOA for a year and half. I joined because there were a fair amount of rules that were only being selectively enforced and some were never enforced. I am certainly not going to excuse bad HOA’s, but I will say we got numerous complaints that I would categorize as stupid. During one of the elections, people would gripe about political yard signs supporting various candidates. I could see complaining if people plastered their entire yard with them, but no one had more than 2 or 3 small signs. We ended up having a special meeting where I pointed out that any ban on political yard signs would probably not be enforceable.

    While HOA’s should generally be consistent with their rules, I don’t see the benefit to not allowing this man to have a flag pole.

  50. I don’t quite understand why the ability to alter other people’s property so you can sell your house for the most amount of money possible became a right that can be guaranteed by legal action. If you’re trying to sell your home to bigots and they object to your neighbor’s mezuzah, should you have the right to get it removed?

  51. This is exactly the sort of reason why I will never live in an HOA. As far as I’m concerned, that man can have whatever the hell he wants. He’s earned it.

  52. I absolutely love the picture of retired Col. Van Barfoot smiling & wearing his Medal of Honor. Yes, he was career Army, dudes! Served in -3- wars!

    This morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch story shows a law firm which has offered to represent Mr. Barfoot free, US Senator Mark Warner of VA is getting involved, and members of Col. Barfoot’s infantry unit have all contacted him with offers of support. Think of what he could do with an entire enraged Infantry Unit!

  53. Tal @ 51 Did I forget to mention that if you have dogs & wish to fence in your yard for them you are allowed to put up a wooden split rail fence, then line said fence with chicken wire fencing to keep in your dog(s).

    I’d rather have my chain link fence to that any day.

  54. BeVibe I’m suddenly picturing the ending of the movie Up and dozens of canes being wielded like swords.

  55. Man, those Medal of Honor games were right. One guy practically did win that war.

    Where is the movie about this guy’s life?

  56. I think this American Hero should be left alone and not be hassled about flying the flag of the United States. Why is it all of a sudden that people are “offended” by the stars and stripes? I my front yard I have three flagpoles that fly the flags of the United Sates of America, the State of Louisiana, anf the flag of the Confederate States of America. Thank God I live in an area that does not have a HOA. I bet I would get crap about my flying the Confederate flag.

  57. The way I read that story, there’s no specific rule against flagpoles, but he had to get permission to put it up. They denied his request and he did it anyway. The money quote is “that Barfoot directly violated the association board’s denial of his request to erect a flagpole.”

    He knew about the HOAs rules he would have to live by when he moved there. The fact there wasn’t a specific rule about flagpoles is just a loophole. He asked permission to put up the flagpole so there was obviously a clause saying you had to ask before you make any changes to your property.

    The Medal has earned him some defference, so they really should have let him do it. But the Medal doesn’t earn you the right to make your own rules. It’s a classic case of ‘better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission’.

    You can bet the HOA will back down, and you can also bet that sometime new a new bylaw will show up to specifically prohibit flagpoles.

    There’s also the possibility they didn’t know about his Medal. I doubt it comes up on the HOAs paperwork.

  58. • 3446 recipients of the Medal of Honor.
    • Today there are 92 Living Recipients of the Medal of Honor.
    • There are 20 Living Recipients who performed actions in the World War II.
    • There are 444 Deceased Recipients who performed actions in the World War II.

    So work that one out, Sussex Square HOA. There are only 20 living WWII MoH award winners. And you are being a dick to one of them. Bravo. Well thought-out, that one.

    [slow clap]

  59. HOAs are idiotic. I’m in the first-home market soon, and one of my requirements will be no HOA or Neighborhood Association or anything else with effectively governmental powers…

    (John, a side note – your AMC link for today’s piece doesn’t work, and even their own links to it don’t work.)

  60. Saya@ 11

    insanity… then again most of the country doesn’t even know how to display a flag properly these days so I’m not sure why I’m surprised…

    I hear that. It annoys me the number of oh-so-patriotic flag-wavers in the US who obviously have never even heard of the US Flag Code. Which is, you know, depressingly symbolic.

    I’m with those who say that if it was a rule actually existed when he moved in, that’d be different. But given that there wasn’t, I hope they all get metaphorically kicked in the ‘nads.

    Jardine @ 45

    Why do HOAs even exist? Every “benefit” I ever hear about that they provide is something that can be provided by local government.

    Near as I can tell — and I’m sure there are exceptions — it mostly seems to happen in situations were the people running the HOA want to be a government but don’t want to have to worry about annoying things like proper oversight, Constitutional restraints, etc.

    Granted, I’m sure there are small — and not-so-small — towns out there whose governments would put Boss Hogg to shame. But at least there’s theoretically some recourse.

  61. The Raven @62 “Why do HOAs even exist?” Mostly racial and class bigotry, as far as I can tell.

    Yup. You can’t legally keep “not our kind” off your block, but you can price them out, and/or encourage them to stay out with unreasonable demands. And yes, choosing from a list of “acceptable” bland paint colors is both unreasonable and ethno-centric.

    (My favorite are the snobs who ban clotheslines–so white trash, saving a few dollars by hanging your sheets in the sun like stupid hicks!–until they were re-labeled “solar dryers” and became expensive trend items to “fight global warming.)

  62. This whole thing has an odd element for me. Comes from being a lawyer outside the United States.

    One of the hardest topics I ever had to deal with in law school was wrapping my head around restrictive covenants on property. I spent my entire reading week in 1986 reading the chapter in “Megarry & Wade on property” on restrictive covenants just to figure them out. Two things that stuck with me:

    1) It is really hard at common law to create a restrictive covenant.

    2) Most things can’t be the subject of a restrictive covenant.

    You then turn to the United States, which has a much higher regard for property rights than either Canada or England; neither of us have property rights enshrined in our constitution. You would think that it would be even harder to tell a property what they can or can’t do to their property.

    Apparently not.

    I did write the HOA’s law firm and very politely suggested that they tell their clients that they are assholes.

    If anyone does write the law firm, try to be polite and remember that the lawyer does not necessarily agree with the client. We have to act pursuant to client’s instructions, even when we think the instructions are fairly dumb; we can only refuse to act on unethical instructions, and the bar for that would be fairly high.

    I am willing to bet, however, that the law firm was never advised that they were writing a demand letter to a medal of honor recipient. If the HOA knew about this, but chose not to tell their lawyers, they are likely going to be looking for another law firm. Lawyers take a dim view of clients not telling them all the facts; it is often grounds for cutting your client loose.


  63. @ Charles K. Bradley
    The hypocrisy is amazing. How can you fly an American flag and the Confederate flag? It would be like cheering for the Yankees and the Red Sox…you can’t have it both ways.

    Also, I would bet good money you aren’t flying the Confederate Flag, but a Confederate battle flag…there is a difference.

    I hope the MoH recipient wins this battle for the obvious reasons, and because I personally dislike HOA organizations.

  64. Some days I feel ashamed of being a human being. I can’t believe I actually share a species with oxygen thieves like this.

    For those in doubt I’m talking about the homeowners association, and the legal firm carrying their pathetic little suit. Talk about a size two soul in a size six body.

  65. HeatherRadish@76: “Mostly racial and class bigotry, as far as I can tell.

    Are you being hyperbolic here or do you honestly not see any other benefit to an HOA other than ‘keeping people out’? Because I think you need to think a little harder on that one.

  66. John at 81.
    I do not want to have a discussion drift about the Confederate flag. I respect your wishes on the subject, but I would like to let Chad know that I fly the Third National Confederate Flag which is protected under the Louisiana Flag Desecration Law. Not the Battle Flag.

  67. @77 As another lawyer (although one lucky enough to work for the government and not have to worry about getting clients), I must quibble with your statement that “We [lawyers] have to act on client’s instructions.” No, we don’t (at least in the U.S.). You can refuse to do nearly anything, if you follow a few simple rules and give your client enough notice to find another lawyer to do their nefarious and/or moronic deeds. It’s not like this firm would have been refusing to act in the middle of a trial or something. If you do this, the client will probably stop using you for their non-nefarious and/or moronic work, but that’s life. I’m sure (and pleased) that this firm will be losing more business over the bad publicity than this HOA could ever give them anyway. And that’s ignoring the whole “not being an asshole” thing (which, admittedly, many lawyers do….).

    Just like any other business, a law firm can refuse to represent someone. Most don’t, but that’s their greed, and not some high moral standard (or professional rule).

  68. After reading the citation I’m surpised the HOA had the stones to say “No” to the guy’s flagple.

  69. In certain parts of Maryland, where housing prices are freakishly inflated (read: anywhere between or around Baltimore and Washington DC), HOAs are certain to exist, and people are glad for them. If you want to live anywhere near where your job is, you’re going to pay an astronomical amount of money for your house. You will either be maxed out, or very close to maxed out. In this situation you’d probably see the HOA as something that prevented the floor dropping out from under you on your home value since that’s where most of your income is going.

    For alot of people around here, property values aren’t just a snooty privilege-trip. It’s about going financially extinct if your property value nose dives by 15% because the creep across the street leaves tires in his yard, etc…

    HOAs aren’t all bad, though the capacity for small-minded power tripping is obvious.

  70. It occurs to me that, aside from issues involving litter and/or grass and the mowing thereof, every story I have ever heard about a homeowner’s association involved them being clueless, bullying, busybodied morons.

    I live on a street with One Of Those People whose house is so disgusting that it’s a biohazard (we’re talking dogs dying in the yard and being left to rot where they fall), so I understand neighbors having a vested interest in basic upkeep. But every time I hear about a homeowner’s association, it’s always about flagpoles, peace signs, religious symbols painted on the driveway, or prefab storage sheds in the back yard.

    If I were queen of the universe for a day, I’m pretty sure it would be against the law for HOAs to pass or enforce any regulations not specifically related to safety or sanitation.

  71. I’m sorry, Charles, but that law you cite is not constitutional. Texas v. Johnson overturned state laws prohibiting flag desecration, including Louisiana’s. It’s like having a law on the books banning blasphemy.

    Just to nip potential topic drift in the bud, I’m not trying for a discussion on the good or bad nature of flag burning or if we need a constitutional amendment prohibiting it. I hope a bit of correction of fact (“is protected under the Louisiana Flag Desecration Law“) is permitted by our host.

  72. Something similar happened right here in my own neighborhood recently! An elderly couple decided to put up a 3 foot tall white picket fence around their front yard to keep out dogs and casually trespassing people. YOu see, they took in the dog of their son, who is currently deployed to Iraq, and they don’t want any incidents. It’s a nice fence, rather pretty actually. The guy is over 80, a veteran of one of General Omar Bradley’s Infantry divisions in the European theater, and now a retired pastor from a local Baptist church.

    His neighbor waited several days while this fence was being installed before coming over at its completion and demanding it be taken down as a violation of the HOA! Not when he was told of it going up. Not during any of the several days of its construction. No, he waited for it to be fully up and completed. I can only conjecture to make sure that these dastardly octogenarians would incur the full financial burden for their malicious act. The neighbor actually had been considered a friend, apparently. I guess I am more stringent in my definition of a “friend” than the veteran pastor, though, go figure. I’m sure that is more of a comment on the goodness of his soul in comparison to mine!

    During the episode, the louse even tried to physically intimidate the elderly pastor, obviously having forgotten this guy was a WWII infantry combat veteran and not one to be much impressed by the pompous prat. The elderly gentleman didn’t give an inch an invited the forty-something to start the dance if that was how he wanted it. Greatest Generation, indeed!

    So far, the highly annoyed hypocrite, himself in violation of the HOA terms, has been quietly trying to get a petition signed to get the fence taken down. I, of course, refused, and was visited by the veteran pastor a few days later to ask for my support. I gladly gave it! He is actually being sued by this loser and several other hypocritical hangers-on to get the fence removed. The whole thing has his wife terribly upset and the veteran pastor is taking it much better than I would in his combat boots. It has yet to be resolved. I can only hope that the Wheel of Karma turns and the Universe issues the appropriate justice!

  73. Anthony Cunningham @

    After reading the citation I’m surpised the HOA had the stones to say “No” to the guy’s flagple.

    They probably didn’t know until it hit the media, unless he told them. Many vets make a point of not making a point of their medals. (I have an uncle like that.)

    That said, the smartest thing they could do at this point is make a graceful apology and back down. (The likeliest thing is that they’ll back down without the graceful apology.)

    That said, they’re not preventing him from flying the flag. They’re saying that he can’t do it from a ground-mounted flagpole — he can fly one from the sort of flag pole that attaches to a porch.

    That said, they’re being petty.

  74. Drayl @ 89,
    Go Zephrys (New Orleans AAA team) How could anyone cheer for the Yankees or the Red Sox?
    We will not talk about the Hornets this season, bur Geaux SAINTS!!! :)

  75. I don’t know.

    If my choice is between:

    A. Stupid rules that apply to everyone, and

    B. Stupid rules that apply to everyone except people for whom we’re sympathetic,

    then I have to pick A. At least with option A there’s a chance that someone will notice the stupid rule applying to someone sympathetic, and consider eliminating the stupid rule.

    I guess it just seems like we’d be living in a much worse country if we were allowed to have stupid, mean, petty little rules, and then only use them to pick on people we don’t like.

  76. This is the United States of America. We’ll do everything we can to honor our veterans. Verbally. Actually doing something for them? Not so much.

  77. Patrick @92:

    True, but that’s not the choice.

    I mean, if my choice was between:

    A. Rules that apply to everybody, period, and

    B. Rules that are applied regardless of class, race, gender, political influence, etc., but are applied a little loosely to take into account the fact that life is too complicated to be perfectly encoded into rules.

    then I’d have to pick B.

    (But that’s not the choice, either.)

  78. I’m not a homeowner and I know nothing about Home Owners Associations save what I’ve read here. I just wanted to note that the description of his actions read like some absurd action movie where you think, “This can’t possibly be real. No one could do this.” But there it is. He did it. Totally bad ass.

  79. Dana King @ 93

    This is the United States of America. We’ll do everything we can to honor our veterans. Verbally. Actually doing something for them? Not so much.

    It’s pretty sad that some folks will stick a flag pin into their lapel and brag to the cameras about supporting the troops, and then — when the cameras are off — vote to cut veteran’s benefits. Or worse, send them into harm’s way based on a tissue of lies.

    Some folks clearly just weren’t raised right.

  80. This reminds me of those TSA goons a couple of years ago at an Arizona airport who wanted to confiscate the Medal of Honor belonging to retired General Joe Foss (a World War II ace fighter pilot whose total of 26 combat victories match those of WWI ace Eddie Rickenbacker). They claimed that the points on the medal made it a potential deadly weapon. May these HOA idots always have to fly through airports run by those TSA jerks.

  81. Obviously a better way of handling this would have been to attach a horizontal beam to his flagpole and then set it on fire.

  82. I honesty don’t give a damn whether he has a legal right or not. Essentially, there is a 90-year-old man who wants to put up the flag every morning and take it down, respectfully, every night. What heartless association wouldn’t see that as an example of dignified patriotism in their neighborhood?

    I’m not a Christian, but if some little old lady wanted to walk out on her front lawn every morning, clasp her hands in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary sitting in her yard, and utter a heartfelt prayer, I’d see that as pretty touching. I damn sure wouldn’t be marching over to the neighborhood association demanding that their eyesore of a statue be taken down.

    So maybe you’re not a military vet. Maybe you don’t know anyone who is. But surely you can respect someone who has a ritual that means a great deal to them. Surely you can find some beauty in that.

    Surely you can not be a dick about it. Surely. I can’t believe we’ve deteriorated so far as compassionate people as all that.

    I’m with a lot of other people, in that I don’t see this man’s Medal of Honor being a clear pass to do this. But I do think his devotion and the power of his emotion about it should get some respect. He’s not hurting anyone and he’s not trying to convert. He’s just trying to have a ritual about something that means a great deal to him, in his own little corner of the world.

    Land of the free. Home of the brave. Fly your flag, sir.

  83. Sooo… If it’s legitimate, in many commenters’ eyes to have a HOA enforce conformity in order to keep property values up in regards to the neighbors not letting their grass grow too long, why isn’t it OK for them to keep property values up by keeping out brown people?

  84. John, I can’t agree with you here. If they make an exception for HOA winners, what’s going to happen when the winner of a Silver Star wants patriotic BUNTING on their house? Or if a Purple Heart recipient wants to wear a polo shirt with a little stars-and-stripes where the IZOD alligator usually goes?

    When I bought my first house, I told my agent that if she so much as showed me a house within an HOA, she would be fired. The impulse that people have to look for a three-bedroom, two bath house with a nice backyard and an EXTRA layer of government is beyond me…

  85. And people wonder why some folks go nuts, grab a rifle, and start shooting up homeowners associations. The last time that hapened the genral consensus was “Well, I don’t condone what he did, but I understand why.”

    We had the same problem here a while back where a guy wanted to fly the US flag on 3 days veteran’s, memorial, and hsi brother’s birthday) Note this was the regulation US miltiary flag that the US navy gave him when his brother was KIA. The lawsuits went on for years.

    We actualy ended up passign laws in AZ that say things like, No HOA may forbid the installation of solar paels; no HOA may forbid the installation of Sateite dishes, etc. We probably need one that says “no HOA may adopt rules regarding the flying of the US or State flag”

    As I always tell my real estate agent, the first hose you show me with a HOA is the lasthouse you show me, period.

  86. IANAL so I’ll throw this out to the ones that are, doesn’t HR 42. [109] ‘Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005’, throw a bit of a wrench into the HOA’s argument? This federal law states:

    “A condominium association, cooperative association, or residential real estate management association may not adopt or enforce any policy, or enter into any agreement, that would restrict or prevent a member of the association from displaying the flag of the United States on residential property within the association with respect to which such member has a separate ownership interest or a right to exclusive possession or use.”


    It prevents HOAs from restricting owners from displaying flags as long as the home owner does so properly with respect to the “Flag Code”.

    The HOA has tried to land on Col. Barfoot like a ton of bricks wrapped around an atomic bomb, thinking that the sorts of threats contained in their letter will get him to back down. He did try to gain approval for the pole and when it was denied I’m sure he said to himself, “hey my agreement does not prohibit a pole. I was just being nice to ask but now I’ll put it up anyway and see what happens next.” Remember he’s from the beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission generation.

    Has his HOA withdrawn their demands yet?

  87. Michael:

    Re: The Freedom to Display Act — The HOA, I suspect, would argue that it has no problems with displaying the flag, just with the specific flagpole Col. Barfoot is using.

  88. Yes, the HOA does claim it’s all about the pole but as the HOA agreement don’t specifically prohibit it and HR 42 is vague enough to allow proper display which a vertical pole is just great for, the only issue now can be is the pole too big or improper in some other way?

    If the HOA wanted to be true assholes they should wait until Col. Barfoot displays the flag improperly – leave it up over night or during inclement weather. Then force him to remove the pole because he’s doing it wrong. Of course, waiting for the right moment to be an asshole pretty much removes all the fun of being one.

  89. I suspect that there are many HOAs that aren’t run by dickheads, that quietly do what they are meant to do without being bullies and jerks, and we will never hear about them. They will not make news. The issue is not whether a neighborhood has an HOA, it’s about the attitude of the folks who run it.
    (That said, I’d probably not want to live with one in my neighborhood, either…)

  90. HOA’s don’t have to be obnoxious, but they often fall prey to what TNH called the Punch Bowl Czar effect. Simply put, “nothing corrupts like a little power”. There’s also the point that reasonable people often don’t bother with attending the meetings and such, which is a mistake!

    My Mom got some flak from her HOA board over internal modifications to her house, but she and my stepfather checked over the rules carefully, talked to their neighbors about it, and stood their ground. Eventually the guy who was making the trouble (and it was basically one guy) left the board, and the whole thing blew over.

  91. Having dealt with a HOA for a while when we lived in a condo, most of the rules are made to smooth over the fact that you aren’t in a stand alone house, but share the framework with several others, who may not have your taste in decorations, upkeep, or a number of other issues. The rules are usually sensible, and so is the enforcement, but occasionally you get some zealots who want to lord it over their neighbors and become petty tyrants. The rub comes in that if you don’t like the way the HOA is run, you have to get involved in the politics of getting on the HOA board. Many people either can’t be bothered or have no taste for the politicking.

    This should send a clear note to Mr. Barfoot’s HOA that they need to reevaluate how stringently their rules are applied. It may be legal, but it just smacks of asshattery.

  92. Couldn’t we just buy this guy a bazooka to display in his front room? Working or not, it might be a nice proclamation.

  93. 107:M.A.: I suspect that there are many HOAs that aren’t run by dickheads…

    Exactly. I’ve lived happily in HOA-controlled neighborhoods and reaped the benefits–no houses painted purple, no refrigerators in the driveway, etc. The issue is not that HOAs are inherently evil, but that you always run the risk of an HOA being taken over by a bunch of Barney Fifes who regulate for the sake of regulating.

  94. Bob @ 111

    Exactly. I’ve lived happily in HOA-controlled neighborhoods and reaped the benefits–no houses painted purple …

    I’m not seeing how that’s a benefit.

    But then, I used to live in an urban neighborhood that was approvingly known for creative paint jobs. (“Creative” meaning rather more than some folks painting the trim of their white house a different color than the trims of their neighbors’ white houses.)

    Curiously, real estate values there tended to be pretty high.

  95. My first thought is that this homeowners association was unaware that he was a Medal Of Honor recipient. Because anyone with even the tiniest bit of common sense should realize that telling someone like Mr. Barfoot “no flagpole” would only result in a PR nightmare for them.

  96. My first thought was of my grandfather, who was decorated as a result of his actions in the Battle of the Bulge (although not with the MoH). If he wanted a flagpole, anyone who tried to deny it to him would have problems not just with him but with my grandmother, their 8 kids, and 30 grandkids. I am glad that so many people are rallying behind this gentleman (who is probably also someone’s grandfather).

    My second thought was that I was soooooo glad that my husband and I were on the same page (NO HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION) when we bought our home. If denying an honest-to-God hero a little pleasure in his life is the only thing that makes these idiots feel like they have a bit of control in their lives, those lives must be sorry indeed.

  97. I think the rest of the neighborhood should rebel by all installing the same flag poles and letting this guy raise and lower all of them if he wants to.

  98. Mike Crichton @101: If a person’s lawn is a junkyard, they’re attracting rats, breeding mosquitoes, and providing a haven for strays. Dead trees can fall on neighbors’ houses and cars, causing significant damage. Creeping plants such as ivy, honeysuckle, and poison ivy don’t tend to respect property lines.

    None of these things are true about living next to a person who doesn’t happen to look like you.

    Having neighbors means living in a community, and that means having the responsibility to consider how your actions will affect said community–as well as the right to expect that others will do the same. Responsible adults can work out a reasonable balance between personal liberty and community responsibility. Now, it seems like irresponsible, childish individuals may be statistically overrepresented on HOA boards, but that doesn’t make the whole concept of communal responsibility invalid on its face.

  99. We had a case like this locally–in July 2001. The flagpole in question was only 12 feet tall and a judge ordered that it be taken down and fined the homeowner 100 dollars a day for not doing it. I think this went away after 9/11

  100. Maybe we couuld buy the guy a tank to put on his lawn. I doubt that the HOA has a “No Tanks” rule.

  101. Our HOA has a rule where all recreational vehicles have to be parked out of sight of the street; I suspect that a tank would fall under this provision.

    That said, our HOA also requires approval by the “architectural committee” before you paint your house, but since there was no contact information given for said committee, we just went and painted our house and figured if somebody had a problem with off-white walls and dark green trim, they could let us know, and we could tell them to eff off. No-one, apparently, did, and the house looks great.

    And on the property where we’re currently building, we were the first owners in the subdivision (if you can call half-a-dozen 20-acre lots a subdivision), and if any Johnny-come-lately decides to tell us we have to meet their standards for changes we make to our place, we will cordially tell them where they can place their suggestion once it has been folded until it is all sharp corners.

  102. Annalee Flower Horne: The bigots back in the 60s claimed it was. And since, when brown people moved into their neighborhoods, the property values _did_ go down (if only because those neighborhoods became less desirable to other bigots), they had a point.

  103. No, as a lawyer I have to disagree that HOAs are not inherently evil. Sure, there are likely many HOAs (and people on those HOAs) that use their powers only for good, such as kicking out that jerk who plays his radio until 3 am every weeknight and lets his dog run around loose and unfed. But the fact that they have largely unchecked power to regulate how people use their homes invites abuse and itself a bad thing.

    I mean, even if you think Obama pees liquid gold and can make rainbows appear with the snap of his fingers, would you want him to have the right to kill anybody he wants without it being murder? Would the fact that he would almost certainly use that power only for good make it okay? I don’t think so.

  104. HOA members become petty tyrants whose orifices pucker with delight at the thought of enforcing rules in ways the rules were never intended.

  105. @83

    Thanks for the info on lawyers obligations in the United States. They are subtly different than in Ontario (where I practice) where it is clear that, once hired, we can’t just fire clients for being idiots. The trick you learn is to try really hard not to be hired by idiots.

    I still think my advice holds though not to blame the lawyers. They are probably not the assholes here; the HOA is. I am willing to bet that given the extremely negative publicity from taking this retainer that the HOA will be looking for other solicitors in the near future.


    P.S. Any word on whether the HOA has capitulated.

  106. Me @ 111: I’ve lived happily in HOA-controlled neighborhoods and reaped the benefits–no houses painted purple …

    Bearpaw @112: I’m not seeing how that’s a benefit.

    Hence the need for the HOA.

  107. Are these people insane, or just plain unpatriotic communist. What is left of this free country.Lawyers and some people need to remove themselves from the country this veteran and many others fought for us to provide us with the benefits that we have. If left up to these people that have to much time and/or money on there hands maybe they need to apply themselves over seas with our soldiers. Then maybe they can back up and look at reality as life is too short to micro manage everyone elses life. As far as for these type of greedy lawers this is exactly why we have so many unecessay laws, rules and costs associated to such STUPIDITY. Enough said, some just need to get a productive life!
    Thank you

  108. I was president of our HOA for a while. I ran into a lot of the stereotypical HOA directors; I also knew a lot of people who genuinely wanted what was best for their neighborhood and what was required by law. In our case, we have 60 townhouse units joined into 12 buildings, a pool, roads and common area landscaping. These are required by law to be maintained. A lot of the rules of an HOA are justified by the law and the requirements to maintain the value of the properties.
    In this case, I think the HOA was ham-handed and probably overstepped its bounds. However, I did notice in the video that the flagpole was moving rather vigorously in the wind. Was the flagpole properly installed or could it come crashing into his or a neighbor’s roof? If it was our complex, the association would have to fix that roof. The size of the flag could be an issue as well. It didn’t look outsized, but I have heard of people (mostly businesses) flying enormous flags that made an obnoxious amount of noise in the wind.
    It’s all very well to say that you will never live at a place with an HOA, but if the choice is between a $700,000 detached house an hour from work or a $200,000 condo, you might think again. (Can you tell I live in California?)

  109. I’m surprised to see that there have not been more comments here in support of HOAs. I guess that this is attributable to only ever hearing the horror stories, as well-behaved HOAs are boring and non-newsworthy.

    I have a different perspective. Like many commenters above, I was dead-set against moving into a neighborhood with an HOA when I shopped for the house I currently own. I was pleased to find a reasonably new subdivision that did not have one, and it was a factor in my decision to buy here.

    Within a year or two of buying my house, both properties on either side of mine were sold… to people who do not share in my belief that keeping your property well maintained and groomed is good for both your property value and your sense of well-being. Yards dead except for the weeds, falling-down fences, rotting wood trim, you name it.

    I have absolutely no recourse: unless a city code (which are few and vague) is broken, these people are completely free to make me miserable and ruin my ability to see any positive return on my biggest investment. That’s not right- just as your freedom to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose, so should your ‘property rights’ not trump mine. This is the gap that a well-run HOA is intended to fill. I wish I had one. I’ll never make that mistake again.

    Before anyone plays any imaginary ‘race card,’ everyone I’m referring to here is as white as I am.

  110. Bob @ 111 and 126: Thank goodness you don’t live on my parents’ street. My dad had their house painted purple a few months ago as a surprise for my mom, and she loves it and says it’s the coolest thing he’s ever done. I haven’t heard of any dissent from the neighbors, either. The funny thing is that the catalyst was the insurance company’s insistence that they paint the house in order to get their fire insurance renewed. (Didn’t even have to be the whole house, just the front… how dumb is that?)

    They’re also near the top of a dead-end street in a canyon, so it’s not like there’s lots of drive-by traffic. There are only three houses further up the street, so few neighbors would be passing by. But even if that were not the case, I highly doubt anyone would be bothered.

    When the last house on the other end of the street (shortly before the first cross-street) was first built, it was nearly Pepto-Bismol pink with plum trim. We thought it was, shall we say, not the best choice of colors, but never would have dreamed of telling anyone they should change it. Which an owner eventually did. It is now citrus-orange with yellow trim.

  111. I haven’t looked into it in a long while, by HOA would seem to be on weak ground. There is no rule prohibiting flag poles, only a rule requiring an owner to ask permission. If a house mounted flag is fine, but a flag pole is not, the HOA better have a darn good reason for the distinction other than “we don’t like it”. As the law generally presumes free use of land, unless there is a clear prohibition of record, HOAs can’t enforce their rules in an arbitrary and capricious manner and if they can’t articulate a solid reason for not allowing a flag pole it likely will be on the losing end of the lawsuit.

    A quicker resolution, though, would be to recall the HOA’s board. The legal fees will be huge, in light of the public interest in any court case and various interest groups that would try to intervene. Owners within the Association may not want to write the checks to cover the attorney bills or like the black eye the publicity is causing their neighborhood. So get rid of the board and let the man (and any of the other neighbors who want to) fly the flag.

  112. To quote someone far more articulate than me.
    “There, your “WTF?” tanks should now be all filled up for today.”
    The freaking President has to salute recipients of the Medal of Honor.
    To say nothing of the whole freedom of speech thing.

  113. Two quotes from Evil Rob:

    “HOAs are fascist by definition,” (said definition being that somebody else has control over what is theoretically your private property; he is a history major, after all) and

    “The smaller the teapot, the bigger the tempest.”

    I can respect HOAs with a strictly limited set of responsibilities— that is, yard and road maintenance, and maintenance of shared properties such as pools. But when they start getting into ordinances designed to protect property values, they start getting silly.

    To give an example— the neighborhood we just moved into is about thirty years old, no HOA. During the last three decades they had one house become Section 8 housing (where the problem was apparently not the renter but her deadbeat brother) and another sold or rented to a group who trashed the place to the point that the young couple who bought it lived for three months in their RV while they fixed the place up. At no point did the owners (many of them original buyers) do anything other than call in actual code violations— and right now the neighborhood is in perfectly fine shape, no HOA.

    I suspect if we were to paint our house purple, we’d get raised eyebrows and snarky comments, but nobody crass enough to actually tell us we had to paint it otherwise. Though they are a little, shall we say, overly helpful sometimes… the lawn has been mowed a few times when neither of US has done it…

  114. Weird, isn’t it? Being an American means allowing someone the freedom to burn the flag as a form of political protest, and these lamebrains think they can prevent someone from FLYING OUR FLAG FROM THE BIGGEST DARN POLE THEY WANT!!! We pretty much have to protest their feng shui with some red, white and blue waving in their silly faces to remind them where they are! Add that to insulting a battlefield hero…maybe they should wake up one morning to find red and white striped sidewalks against a field of stars on blue streets in their precious neighborhood.

  115. Scalzi – “I feel compelled to point out that you’re conflating your own dislike of deference to the military with what this fellow was ‘supposedly fighting for.’”

    Damn right I am. My dad and one uncle were career and all the other uncles were at least in for WW2, so I’ve never been personally uncomfortable with things military, but there’s a reason why under U.S. law the armed forces’ commander-in-chief is a civilian. Not “Our” commander-in-chief, mark you, unless we’re in service — that’s important. I’d have more to say, but I’m not trying to hijack the thread.

    Scalzi – “more to the point, noting that a Medal of Honor recipient has earned the right to have a flagpole in his front yard if he wants one is not the same as a “reflexive adoration” of the military in a general sense. It’s recognition of extreme bravery in particular relating to this man. And I have no real problem saying that this man in particular has earned a flagpole in his front yard.”

    Well, we don’t disagree (see my first paragraph @57) but it isn’t my call. Maybe the real root of the problem is setting up a system in which many people see a house primarily as an investment rather than a place to live. I’ve wondered if that way of thinking is as common outside the U.S.

  116. To the other Keith:

    “That’s not right- just as your freedom to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose, so should your ‘property rights’ not trump mine. This is the gap that a well-run HOA is intended to fill. ”

    This is the fundamental misconception, and the problem that lies at the root of the HOA weed.

    Sorry, but you don’t have a *right* to maximum ROI on your house, or anything else for that matter. The fact that distinction is telling. You have a right to seek it, but not demand it. Your trashy neighbors “tip of the nose” ends at the property line…regardless of how potential buyers for your property may value it.

    In effect, you are demanding that your property rights trump *theirs*. To use your analogy, their right to swing ends at the tip of your nose, but you feel that you should have the right to blast them in the junk because they’re ugly.

    Lots of folks feel that way, yet the law really doesn’t support that; hence the “need” for HOAs. They’re nothing but a way to “legally” do things that otherwise couldn’t be done.

    As the other poster pointed out: while theoretically there is nothing wrong with HOAs; in practice the unfettered power they wield is almost always a bad idea.

  117. @125 I figured that you were probably in a non-U.S. jurisdiction with different rules. Ironically, I’m in Louisiana (and, no, I’m not the nice person who sent the satsumas in another thread, although they are yummy), which is the one state in the US with a French legal model (like Ontario, if I’m not mistaken), but our ethics rules are definitely very different.

    In the US, at any rate, we have a huge surplus of lawyers, and many of them have no problem doing anything anyone will pay them to do. This firm is an example of this behavior. I heartily encourage everyone to be jerks to them. It would be different if they were stuck with the clients, as seems to happen to you guys up north, but, here, they could have easily said no and were too greedy and/or stupid to do so. Part of why the legal profession is held in such low regard in the U.S. is exactly this sort of behavior. The only way it will ever get punished is by losing business or public outcry (even though they ethically probably could have refused to do this task, they were probably not obligated to do so (although lawyer ethics rules vary from state to state)). I’m sure the losing business part will take care of itself, but they should also be reminded that they can–and should–say no to some client requests on a human level, as well. Just my opinion, of course.

  118. Even as a Brit i know what the CMH is and as a veteran understand what it takes to be awarded one. The HOA should pay for the flag pole to be erected, maintained and by God they should parade in front of it at reveille every morning for the rest of Lt Barfoots life as a sign of respect and gratitude.

  119. Jay Don @ 138:

    Hmm… I see your point- but I don’t agree with it.

    Firstly, I’m not ‘demanding’ anything. People who buy a property in an HOA make a choice to do so and are agreeing to abide by certain restrictions. They make this choice (IMO) pretty much entirely because they DO value the ROI of many people’s largest investment- their home. In my case, I have no such protection so I’m reduced to venting my frustration on this comment board.

    Secondly, and I know I’m about to say this wrong, but bear with me: Are all ‘rights’ really equal? In the case of a conflict between a ‘right’ that enhances the greater good and one that doesn’t, should the one that does win? Think of laws against smoking in a restaurant as an example here. Yes, the devil is in the details, and who’s “greater good” we’re talking about- which brings me to my final point…

    I think we agree that in this case and many other examples we can name HOA’s overstep their bounds due to being managed by some petty tyrant with thier first tiny taste of power. But that doesn’t make the concept evil. As I mentioned before, idiot HOA’s get all the ink. I’d be willing to bet real cash money that 90% of HOA’s operate in smooth, silent anonymity- and their members don’t find them the least bit evil.

  120. To play the devil’s advocate here: all politics is local. Rules are made for a reason, and that means little rules about flag poles too. If you don’t like the rule, work to change it within the framework established in the bylaws of the association. Or we should just agree that we can all do what we please and agree that rules are made to be broken.

  121. To those of you who say this brave man lives in a HOA community & as such he must abide by the rules and regs, please note, there is NO such reg against having a flag pole and flying a flag. YIKES!!

    As a Medal of Honor recipient, he has earned the right to fly a flag. He paid a huge price for this right.

    The HOA and their law firm look just like what they are, a bunch of ridiculous, petty fools who are power hungry.

  122. To the “Other Keith” If I were a betting woman I would take your bet that 90% of HOA’s operate in smooth, silent anonymity- and their members don’t find them the least bit evil. I’m with a law firm that has had a number of cases regarding HOAs and their illegal attempts to control their neighbors. It is really quite ridiculous. One HOA board member felt it would be appropriate to sign a homeowner’s name on literally hundreds of magazine subscription forms and have magazines and bills for same be sent to the homeowner, just because the homeowners disagreed with the board. The homeowners are in the 70s, the man had a stroke because of the stress caused by trying to get this mess straightened out, because of all the bills for these magazines and the damage to his credit score. Harmless, I don’t think so….. Just about every time I have been involved with a HOA it has been ugly and the ugliness has been caused by the petty, power hungry HOA board.

  123. I once contracted the drywall from a builder who had a Medal of Honor winner for his superintendant, he was the rudest person I have ever met, he lied to me and he cheated me until I had to quit but I never said a word back to him because he was a Medal of Honor winner. End of story.

  124. We have a neighborhood association, but their concerns are more regarding crime, making sure people know what’s happening with city issues, etc.

    But I live in urbia.

    I don’t have a dog in this race, but I do have a quick story. A guy bought a house out south, in a HOA neighborhood. He repainted the house fairly shortly after moving there, it was not a shocking color but they apparently had a proscribed palette of about eight colors people could choose to paint their homes. He went, ‘umm, ‘kay.”

    The next week he painted his house ALL the colors of the HOA’s list. One clapboard, a different color. All around the house.

    HOA came back at him and he said, “you told me I had to limit myself to those colors. I did it, you all get to pay if I have to paint it again.” (don’t know how well lawyered up he was. He won.

    The house was painted that way (striped) when I was in high school and didn’t get repainted until after it was sold a few years ago. They used a light color and in the afternoon summer sun you can still see that it’s striped underneath.

  125. My parents live in a 3 year old house with an HOA. Until this year, the housing developers were responsible for the HOA and there were no problems. It’s now been turned over to the residents and there are a few members who drive the neighborhood looking for “problems”.

    What kind of problems? My parents are being threatened with a lawsuit because the house numbers on the mailbox are too large and they refuse to change them. There was a change in the regs that stated all house numbers should be no larger than one half inch, while my parents’ numbers are 2 inches high. You might ask yourself “What’s the big deal?” It becomes a big deal when the ambulance driver has to spend time driving around the neighborhood because he can’t read the f’ing street numbers.

    The other issue, admittedly far more minor issue came about during campaign season. Oddly enough, complaints were only valid against one candidate’s signs. Then again, it is Warren County, OH, so the parents weren’t surprised. They’re now waiting for complaints when they expand the vegetable garden next year.

  126. # Joe M.on 03 Dec 2009 at 9:54 am
    HOAs are idiotic. I’m in the first-home market soon, and one of my requirements will be no HOA or Neighborhood Association or anything else with effectively governmental powers…

    Can’t let this one go…there are MAJOR differences between HOA’s and NA’s, and the latter has NO “effectively governmental powers.”

    A HOA is a legal entity with specific rights in property. YOUR property. And to some extent oh my yes they can indeed tell you what to do (more commonly, what NOT to do) with your property. Love ’em or hate ’em (and you can do both) you agree to those terms when you buy the property, and the HOA agreement is part of the sale document and the deed. HOA’s have their uses, and yep, some of them are run by idiots and power-whiny meddling pinheads with an overwrought sense of self-importance. If you find yourself in one of those, your best options are to either [a] move; or [b] lead a revolution and take over the HOA board.

    This is why it’s a Really Good Thing to do your own due diligence on a property before buying it. Which includes reading the HOA laws and by-laws, and even asking your potential neighbors what they think of the HOA.

    A Neighborhood Association is a completely voluntary organization that in general has ZERO (zilch, nada, none) legal powers to tell neighbors what to do or to demand pre-approval of otherwise legal activities and property mods. It cannot tell you what color to paint your house, whether or not you can put up that flagpole, or what shrubs you can plant. Generally the most an NA can do is use the existing system (city inspectors, police, etc.) to get existing city/county regulations and ordinances enforced against habitual violators.

    This is a Good Thing, as anyone who’s had a real problem neighbor can attest. Single nieghbors making complaints aren’t exactly priority, but NA’s speak with a larger voice.

    The pinheads in this particular HOA who decided their catch-all clause let them keep a MOH winner from putting up a flagpole are idjits and assholes. When a MOH winner asks if he can put up a flagpole and there is no specific rule in the HOA laws against it, the proper response is “YESSIR! May we invite the HOA to the first raising?”

    The proper response if there IS a specific HOA rule against it is “Let’s have a meeting and see if we can get the HOA to grant a variance.”

  127. The Gray Area @142: did you know that the Devil’s Advocate used to be an actual, distinguished position at the Vatican, rather than being used as a label for anyone who feels like being randomly contrary, but wants plausible deniability for it?

    There’s a lot of room between quasi-legal, tyrannical entities like HOAs and ‘do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’. For example, criminal and civil laws, for which there are things like due process and transparency (certainly more so than in HOAs).

  128. One addition to what Tully said. At least in California, the bylaws deal with how the HOA is run as a business; the way the election is handled and such. That’s important, but what you really want to look at when you are buying into an HOA is the CC&Rs. The Conditions, Covenants, and Restrictions say what you can and cannot do and what the Board of Directors is required to do. These are filed with the state, as are the bylaws. Generally, they are created by the developer from a standard template. If the developer is thorough, they’ll modify them to fit the specifics of the development. Many don’t.
    I’m not surprised that TrishB’s parents saw a change when the homeowners took control. The developer was probably not enforcing anything that didn’t affect their primary purpose: selling the units. I’ll bet the homeowners are trying to self-manage rather than getting a professional manager. That’s a bad idea. I speak from experience.

  129. Tal wrote: Most HOAs have an architectural control committee that has to approve ANY changes to the outside of one’s house

    Yes and like most of them the rules are not specific but require approval which can change day to day depending on the mood of the approver.

    Such is the case in this story, if you read it, you see there is no rule against flagpoles, it’s up to the discretion of the board. So your contention that it’s too bad he decided to live there is moot, since there is no rule against doing what he wants to do.

    If HOAs were limited and specific, that would be better. But most put power into the hands of people to make decisions. These people have no accountability, which is the problem with giving them discretion over your choices.

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