Carmel Valley HOA tells resident to stop flying Union Jack
Shannon Glover came from England to San Diego almost 30 years ago for a uniquely American reason: She fell in love with Tom Cruise and “Top Gun.”
Now she’s in a dispute that pits the country of her birth against the one she calls home.
Her homeowners association in Carmel Valley has ordered her to stop flying the British flag, the Union Jack, outside her house.
“Only the American flag is permitted,” the Notice of Violation says.
Stunned at first, then outraged, Glover isn’t complying. “The flag,” she said, “is absolutely not coming down.”
It looks like state law is in her favor. The Davis-Stirling Act, which regulates homeowners associations (HOAs), says boards may not prohibit the display of “non-commercial” signs, flags or banners unless they pose a threat to public health or safety, or unless the display violates some local, state or federal law.
“I think Civil Code Section 4710 is pretty clear,” said Kelly Richardson, whose Pasadena-based law firm specializes in HOA matters throughout California. (He writes a column on the subject for the Union-Tribune.) “You can’t have a rule that says you can only fly the American flag.”
What the Trilogy Homeowners Association will do next is not known. Phone calls and emails to its management company were not returned. Two directors on the board did not respond to emails, either.
The dispute adds another chapter to the decades-long lore about HOAs and their many rules. Designed to safeguard the appearance, amenities and property values of the homes, the restrictions leave little room for personal flair, governing front-door colors, window coverings, plant choices — even how long a garage door can stay open.
That’s made them an object of ridicule on the Internet and elsewhere, and the source of more than a few lawsuits. But they’re here to stay. An increasing number of new housing projects are “common interest” developments, with about one in every five U.S. residents living in one now.
Yet for all its similarity to other HOA kerfuffles, the Carmel Valley case may also say something about this particular time in American life. Immigration is a political lightning rod. Every day, in conflicts large and small, the same question gets asked: Who belongs here?
A Christmas gift
Glover, 51, grew up in Liverpool and still has an English accent. Naturalized in the U.S., she remains a Brit, too; both countries allow dual citizenship.
She works as a divorce attorney in University Town Center and lives not far away in Trilogy, a gated community just east of Interstate 5 and south of State Route 56. She’s had a house there for about 12 years.
On her cobblestone cul-de-sac, several of the neighbors routinely fly American flags from wall brackets next to their garages. She likes the look, and thought it would be nice to add a Union Jack to the mix. Her boyfriend bought her one for Christmas.
It went up about two months ago, and as far as Glover could tell, her neighbors approved. “She’s an American citizen, and she’s being patriotic to her heritage,” said Tom Polito, who lives next door. “I think that’s great.”
Then came the Notice of Violation. “Trilogy Homeowners Association was established for the purpose of maintaining the common areas of the development as well as enforcing the governing documents to preserve property values and community morale,” the Aug. 19 letter from the board of directors said. “On a recent walk thru it was noted that you have a British flag that needs to be removed.”
Glover’s initial reaction: “Are you kidding me? I thought this was America. I thought we had a First Amendment.”
It’s unclear what part of the governing documents she allegedly violated. She’s asked for clarification from the management company, without success.
The original Trilogy restrictions, dated 1996, mention flags only twice, both pertaining to real estate sales. A 2016 handbook given to residents doesn’t mention flags at all, although it does list a possible $35 fine for improper “decorative” items under its schedule of penalties.
Richardson, the HOA legal expert, said if an alleged violation isn’t spelled out in the association’s governing documents, that’s a problem. “I just put on a webinar last week about enforcing rules and talked about this,” he said. “You can’t enforce rules that aren’t written out.”
He said there’s a common thread that runs through many of the HOA disputes he’s seen: “The two sides often don’t have the same information about rights and responsibilities.” If people took the time to read and understand the Davis-Stirling Act, he said, “these things would plummet by 90 percent.”
The act, sponsored by San Diego Assemblyman (and later Superior Court Judge) Larry Stirling and Assemblyman (and later Governor) Gray Davis, went into effect in 1986. It consolidated rules governing condominiums and other planned-unit developments that had been scattered across various sections of civil and corporate law.
Originally it was about 25 pages long. But as the number of these housing projects has proliferated, so have the rules. After the last re-write, it was about 100 pages.
This isn’t Glover’s first run-in with her HOA. She said she has received other violation notices about leaving her garage door open. The rules say the door is supposed to be up only long enough for a car to enter or exit.
She also got a nuisance complaint in June about her air conditioner, which a neighbor complained was too loud. Glover said it came with the house when she bought it and is similar to others on the street. The complaint was dropped after two board members came over and listened to the air conditioner, she said.
This time, without further explanation from the board, she’s struggling to understand the motivation behind the violation notice. Why, she asked, would someone be offended by a flag representing a longtime ally of the United States?
“I don’t know for sure, but I have to think it’s a reflection of the current anti-immigrant sentiments,” Glover said one day last week, standing outside her house and glancing up and down the street. “As an immigrant myself, I’ve never felt that before. But now people think everything has to be American. It’s ‘Go home if you’re not American.’”
Her neighbor, Polito, said he finds the violation notice “crazy, idiotic.” Shannon said other neighbors have rallied to her defense, too, and are encouraging her not to remove the flag.
She isn’t planning to. “I want a bigger one,” she said.
— John Wilkens is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune