Chron columnist Rick Casey follows up on the story of the disappearing yard signs in Timbergrove (see here for Part One). If you can get past his cutesy tone, he actually did some good reporting, as he discovered what happened the last time a homeowner and a homeowner’s association battled over this point.
It was 1992 and a couple in Meyerland had the audacity to display a Clinton-for-President sign in their yard.
It disappeared, replaced by a notice of deed restrictions prohibiting political signs.
They put up a second sign. Same result.
They lost five signs during that campaign.
Two years later, they posted a “Paul Colbert for U.S. Congress” yard sign.
Again it disappeared.
A discussion with the Meyerland Community Improvement Association over First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech did not help. The consensus was that tacky political signs damage property values.
The couple, Marco and Jeanette DuBose, finally had enough. They hired attorney David A. Furlow, who specializes in fighting homeowners associations.
The association hired attorney Stephen K. Hamilton, who specializes in defending homeowners associations.
They ended up in the court of state District Judge Tony Lindsay. I asked if she is a pinko liberal commie, and she assured me she isn’t. I believe her because Republicans keep electing her.
Furlow made the case that a neighborhood organization could not deprive people of the fundamental constitutional right to freedom of speech.
He also called a prominent real estate broker as an expert witness. She testified that River Oaks was often festooned with political signs and it didn’t seem to hurt the property values.
Hamilton agreed that the U.S. Supreme Court had prohibited cities from banning political signs by ordinance, but he argued that this was different. By accepting the deed restrictions when they bought the house, the DuBoses had contractually agreed not to put the signs up.
At the end of the hearing, Judge Lindsay ruled for the DuBoses. She found the deed restriction to be a violation of both the Texas and the U.S. constitutions.
She entered a permanent injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the restriction by the Meyerland Community Improvement Association — an injunction that remains in force today.
The association accepted the advice of its attorney not to appeal. As it is now, the ruling is not binding on other associations. But if the association appealed and lost, it would be.
So there you go. Note that the “contractual” argument failed – you can’t bargain away your rights, which is as it should be. While Timbergrove is not bound by this ruling, the precedent is against them, and what’s more, as Casey then notes, the loser can be ordered to pay the winner’s legal fees in cases like these. How risk-averse are you, Timbergrove?