St. JAMES, NC (WECT) — The First Amendment protects your right to free speech, among other things, and prohibits the government from infringing on that right, but a St. James homeowner discovers those protections don’t work. not apply when you agree to live in a development with restrictive covenants.
Elise Bailey has lived at St. James Plantation for years and she recently started putting up small garden flags like many of her neighbors, but Bailey is being told she can’t have her flags anymore or risk fines and liens . She says the homeowners association (POA) targets her for the flags she chooses to display.
“It was only last year that I hoisted flags other than the American flag, red, white and blue, but I see where locally we are becoming more isolated and that needs to stop,” he said. she declared.
Over the past year, Bailey has collected and displayed a number of yard flags, which she says all meet regulatory size requirements, but share messages like Black Lives Matter or flags with the late Justice of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Likewise, she says other people in her neighborhood are flying Blue Lives Matter, Back the Blue, Gadsden Flags, Q-anon flags, etc. without repercussions.
“I think it’s important because you can drive and see Don’t Tread on Me in the plantation and I wanted more balance,” she said.
More recently, she was told by the POA that her flag had to be removed or she would face fines – that flag said White Supremacy is Terrorism. Another flag that caused issues was reading Capitol Police Lives Matter.
“A POA telling me I need to remove Capitol Police Lives Matter while they can still allow Police Lives Matter — that’s problematic for me,” Bailey said.
The POA said their flags were political in nature, but they say when it comes to other political causes, they have no problem allowing them. However, according to St. James rules and policies, signs of any kind are prohibited.
“Except as required by law, no billboards, posters or signs of any kind (including in particular “for sale” or “for rent” signs or posters) shall be erected or permitted to stay off any improvement or on any land. , except (i) a name and address sign, or (ii) a temporary sign reflecting the construction of a dwelling on a such lot by a licensed contractor, the design of which shall be approved by the Architectural Review Committee.For the purposes of this section, “signs” include signs, flags, pennants, banners and any other physical medium used to attract attention”, in accordance with the regulations.
However, a quick drive around the neighborhood shows that these rules are not strictly enforced as a number of flags can be seen including holiday banners, Blue Lives Matter, an All Lives Matter flag and other Black flags Lives Matter. But it’s Bailey who faces fines and even revocation of the right to use the neighborhood’s side doors.
Despite the apparent restriction to flags and signs in the bylaws, the rules and regulations give the POA Board of Directors ultimate authority.
“The final decision as to whether a sign is permitted or prohibited, including, but not limited to, what is and is not a sign, and what constitutes a political sign, will be determined solely by the board of Directors”, according to the rules provided by St. James POA.
It’s not just St. James Plantation, most, if not all, HOAs have restrictions in place limiting things like signs, banners, and even what colors you can paint your shutters, but what about there equal application of the rules?
Bradley Coxe is a Wilmington attorney who handles real estate litigation and other real estate matters, including working with HOAs.
“They have a fiduciary duty and a duty of good faith to enforce these laws, these regulations, equally against everyone,” Coxe said.
And if they don’t, Coxe says they’re open to civil action from landlords.
“There’s no entity and a lot of people think there is, there’s no entity with the state or the county to go out there and tell the HOA you can’t to do this, it has to be a private legal action by an individual who owns this or a group of owners,” Coxe said.
For now, Bailey has taken down her flags and received a new letter telling her that the violations have been dismissed. But she says the whole ordeal principle still bothers her and she doesn’t want her neighbors’ flags to be pulled down, only to have equal rights to express her opinions and ideas.
The St. James POA responded to WECT for comment:
“With over 4,000 homes, 81 holes of championship golf, and many other amenities and programs, St. James Plantation’s covenants support an extraordinary lifestyle for residents and guests.
Most gated communities, including St. James Plantation, have covenants and regulations that address architectural design, signage, and more.
We have a fair and balanced approach to notifying residents of violations of Community Covenants, providing courtesy notices and sufficient time to correct, before implementing enforcement actions, which are conducted in accordance with the laws of the State of North Carolina.
Residents initiate offenses as they go, and not all respond to requests for correction in a timely manner; it can give the impression that some people follow the rules and others don’t; however, it’s simply the pace of how things happen.
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