Group plans to take on HOAs over flags

January 7, 2011 6:33:16 PM PST
A retired Marine is fighting his homeowners association for the right to fly the American flag on his flagpole. It's happening in the Lakeland Village community off Highway 290 and Fry Road.

Mike Merola is a former drill sergeant in the Marines. He changes out his flag twice a year to keep it from getting worn, something he takes very seriously. But it's a tradition that his homeowners association says needs to stop.

We first introduced you to Merola Thursday. Since then, a lot of people have commented here on and our Facebook page about the debate. Well, the state may be getting involved now because a new bill is about to be introduced.

Merola's decision to fly the American flag on a 20-foot free standing pole in his back yard instead of his front yard mounted to his home now has him embroiled in a lawsuit with the Lakeland Village homeowners association.

"My values and what I believe in and they way I was raised is what I'm fighting for," said Merola.

But Merola's battle with his HOA could be the last of its kind. A group in Austin tired of hearing about these flag flaps is introducing a flag display bill in the upcoming Texas legislature, stipulating that HOAs cannot prohibit flags on free standing poles.

"From experience in dealing with homeowner associations, if it's not in black and white and it says you must permit or you may not prohibit, then they won't do it," said John Stratton, attorney for American Radio Relay League.

Stratton is referring to the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005. While it mandates that every American has the right, it makes no mention of using a freestanding flag pole like Merola sees fit on his own property.

"If we do not specify, then the homeowner associations will continue to try and reinterpret the federal law and state law to deny a homeowner the right to put up a flag pole," said Stratton.

Meantime, Lakeland Community Association plans on suing the retired veteran because he won't take it down, saying the flagpole causes irreparable injury to the community's design.

"It's a ridiculous lawsuit," said KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy. "It should have been resolved amicably."

Androphy is not sure Lakeland Village Community Association will easy win the thousands of dollars in damages they seek.

"What you do in your back yard that is only visible to your neighbors that agree, not visible to the public, doesn't destroy the integrity of the community," he said.

Androphy also points out when a HOA sues its own resident, other residents end up paying for the lawsuit through their dues each year.

Either way, that flag display bill will be introduced next month.