English Cove HOA action against BLM signs

I thought about delivering a copy of the below text to all of my neighbors. Katie talked me out of it. But it’s cathartic to write down my thoughts.

MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS ON ENGLISH COVE’S RULE ABOUT SIGNS

In a recent email communication, the English Cove Board of Directors reminded owners that posting signs visible outside their units is against our covenants, conditions & restrictions (CC&Rs), except in four narrow circumstances. The Board has not attempted to enforce this rule since I moved to English Cove in 2017. That is, until two weeks after I and two other residents posted signs with progressive messages including the words “Black Lives Matter.”

While the Board appears so far to be following best practices for resuming enforcement of a rule, I find the timing problematic, and worry that the Board will selectively enforce the rule against signs, fining me while ignoring the many other signs that are posted contrary to the CC&Rs. As such, I want to share with my neighbors my understanding of the Board’s legal obligations (and those of every Owner) in this area.

Please Note: I work in data engineering and analytics at Microsoft. I am not an attorney.

CAN THE BOARD LEGALLY PREVENT ME FROM EXERCISING MY FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS?
Yes. While the Association and its CC&Rs are subject to the Constitution, you can voluntarily give up some of your rights. When each of us purchased or leased a unit in English Cove, we each gave up our First Amendment right to post signs on our property without approval from the Board of Directors.

WHAT TYPES OF SIGNS ARE PERMITTED?
For-sale signs, open-house signs, political signs (during an undefined period prior to an election), and security camera surveillance signs (if it is adjacent to the camera).

WHAT TYPES OF SIGNS ARE NOT PERMITTED?
Anything else. This includes signs that have been or are currently posted in English Cove, such as ones which state or suggest:
• Your house is protected by a security firm;
• You support a particular sports team;
• Dogs are not permitted near your home;
• Your child graduated from school;
• An area is under surveillance when the sign is not adjacent to the camera itself; and
• You “welcome” people to your house.

CAN I POST A POLITICAL SIGN NOW?
Maybe? The Rules only say “before” a primary or election. The Board may arbitrarily or capriciously redefine “before” at any time they choose, though they must use the same definition for everyone.

WHAT KIND OF POLITICAL MESSAGES CAN I POST?
Who knows? The Rules provide no restrictions except that the sign must be related to a primary or election. You can post anything you consider is related to an election—including “Black Lives Matter.” At least until the Board arbitrarily decides that your political message is not related to a primary or election.

CAN THE BOARD ALLOW SOME MESSAGES BUT NOT OTHERS?
It depends. The Board can allow some classes of signs, such as election-related signs. They can’t, however, prohibit signs from one political party while allowing them for another. In other words, if the Board permits me to keep a Black Lives Matter sign in my window, they must also permit signs supporting White Nationalism.

CAN THE BOARD SELECTIVELY ENFORCE THE RULE FOR SOME OWNERS BUT NOT OTHERS?
No, but… While selective enforcement is illegal, the Board can basically do whatever it wants unless a higher authority such as a county or state court intervenes. From my experience, selective enforcement is the norm in English Cove.

CAN THE BOARD CHOOSE NOT TO ENFORCE A RULE?
Yes. While HOAs may not enforce a rule selectively, they are not required to enforce every rule in the CC&Rs.

CAN THE BOARD CHANGE THE RULES TO PERMIT MORE TYPES OF SIGNS?
Yes. The Board does not need to follow any special procedures to do so: they do not even have to hold a meeting to receive feedback residents.

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