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Lynn Roby, and her husband, John Roby, stand in front of their home Tuesday with their Joe Biden campaign sign. Their HOA in Villas di Toscana asked them to remove the sign, but John Roby refused and paid a fine.

A Santa Fe man is taking a stand against a homeowner’s association over what he contends is his First Amendment right to display a campaign sign in his front yard, reigniting a long-running debate that resurfaces every election when political expressions conflict with rules on private property.

“I’m a lifelong Democrat, and I strongly believe that we have to do anything we can to get the current administration out of office,” John Roby, 66, said Friday.

Immediately after Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, Roby said he ordered a campaign sign online in support of the ticket. When the blue, white and red sign arrived in the mail about a week later, Roby said he placed it in front of his home at the Villas di Toscana, a gated community at Governor Miles Road and Camino Carlos Rey with an HOA and covenants, conditions and restrictions.

His telephone started ringing right away.

“Immediately, I got a call from the president of the HOA telling me that the sign violated the bylaws and that it had to come down,” said Roby, a retired administrator who moved to Santa Fe from Texas in August 2017. “I told him in no uncertain terms, ‘I do not intend to remove the sign.’ ”

On Sept. 10, Roby and his wife, Lyndsey, received a courtesy notice from the HOA’s compliance coordinator on behalf of the board of the directors. The notice stated that living in the gated community offers many advantages but also imposes certain restrictions.

“These restrictions are not meant as an inconvenience or an invasion of your freedom, but rather as a means of promoting harmony within” the community, according to the notice, which stated that only “for sale” signs not exceeding 3 feet and legally required signs were allowed.

The notice gave the homeowners 14 days to remove the sign “to avoid further notice with a monetary penalty of $25.”

Four days letter, the Robys sent the HOA a check for $25 for the “alleged violation.”

“We believe the placement of this sign to be a form of expression that is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” they wrote.

John Roby said Friday he considered the $25 penalty a contribution to the Democratic Party.

“I’m not going to take the sign down,” he said. “That’s out of the question.”

According to hoamanagement.com, political signs “are always a hot topic” among HOAs, especially around the time of an election.

“Is an HOA really stifling your First Amendment rights when they prevent you from displaying a political sign? The answer is no,” according to the website. “To put it briefly, the First Amendment limits federal, state, and local governments from doing things that stifle freedom of speech. That includes taking action or making laws that would inhibit the rights guaranteed by the U.S. constitution. However, your HOA is not a part of the government. It’s a private entity.”

On Monday, the HOA sent the Robys another letter, dubbed a first notice of nonompliance, stating that “the violation still remains.”

“If this violation is not corrected within 14 days … the Association will be forced to send a second notice and assess an additional penalty for failure to correct the violation,” the letter states.

In a brief telephone interview, Serenity Lucero, the association’s manager, said she received “several complaints” about the Biden/Harris sign in front of the Roby’s home.

“I’m not sure if it’s about the rules of the association or a political difference,” she said. “It can’t be about a political difference. It has to be about the rules, the same way we would enforce, you know, weeds or a parking violation. We have to enforce the sign as well.”

John Roby contends the HOA is “very selective” in its enforcement of the rules. For example, he said, a real estate sign he can see from his front door outside a neighboring home is bigger than 3 square feet.

“I pointed that out to the HOA … and they have not removed that real estate sign, which is clearly in violation of the 3-square-foot rule,” he said. “The other one that comes to mind is the rules that prohibit the parking of cars overnight on streets. There are cars all up and down our street, people parking them overnight, so what I’m saying is they’re being very selective in their enforcement.”

Roby, who described himself as a man of strong convictions, said he knew political signs were prohibited. In fact, he served on the HOA’s board of directors and resigned in protest.

“I consider this to be a free speech issue,” said Roby, whose son is a journalist, “and I think our HOA should be more flexible during the political season.”

Roby is also steadfast in his politics. He said he and his wife are staunch Democrats who vote along party lines.

“I never would consider voting for a Republican, but I certainly wouldn’t consider voting for Donald Trump,” he said. “He’s a racist. He’s a misogynist. He’s just a nasty person.”

Roby also said he was a “little surprised that people would try to violate my free speech rights” in a liberal-leaning city like Santa Fe.

“We definitely like so many things about Santa Fe, and one of them is the political climate,” he said. “Somebody asked me whenever I was leaving southeast Texas, ‘Why are you moving to Santa Fe?’ I said, ‘I want to move somewhere where I’m not the most liberal person.’ ”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

(42) comments

Steve Spraitz

An HOA board, is nothing but a few has-beens , with a touch if authority , some sort of power that went to their heads .

Michael Reardon

The point being that when you read about absurd abuses of power like this, one only needs to turn that rock over a little more.

HOAs, universally run by unqualified amateur volunteers, are an endless source of fraud and wrongdoing.

Michael Reardon

It started with the political sign and fines. But the HOA went bankrupt for these allegations which the court found were true:

1. Mismanagement of community capital reserves, by:

a. Using them to pay for non-capital expenses including the Board's attorneys' fees (more than $130,000); b. failing to conduct a reserve study as required under Va. Code § 55-514.1; c. failing to budget for Capital Reserves; and d. failing to keep Capital Reserves in a "bank account" as required by the Bylaws Article XI § 8(d).

2. Exceeding Debt Cap - violating Articles of Incorporation, by exceeding the limit on the highest amount of indebtedness or liability to which the Association may be subject — 150% of the HOA's gross income for the previous fiscal year

3. Architectural request - Board of Directors' arbitrary and capricious denial of the Farran's request to build a roof and deck

The Plaintiffs have requested a declaratory judgment and injunction as to each issue, and an award of attorneys' fees under Va. Code § 55-515.

Khal Spencer

That is how I read it, Mr. Reardon. The whack over the head was not about the signs, but about wanton goofups and incompetence on a more general picture.

david lapin

There we go again, "Rights ,Rights Rights". Is the outcome of this more likely to make Biden win or to create hard feelings with the people you have to see every day?This "IT'S MY RIGHT" seems to be code for " I can do want I want regardless of how it affects others around me". Selfish and childish behavior.

Barb Murphy

AGREE!!!!!

Michael Reardon

The reason HOAs have become so popular in NM is simple.

The town gets to tax, but is relieved of providing the services they would have to provide to a traditional sub-division.

It is State Action all the way, and our rights should never be infringed in this manor.

These "common interest developments" will soon be seen as the greatest threat to property rights that has ever happened in our country.

Michael Reardon

In Farran, et al. v. Olde Belhaven Towne Owners Association.

The HOA went bankrupt in a ridiculous fight over political signs.

We need more proud Americans to stand up to this invasion of property rights!

Khal Spencer

Where in the case is there anything about political signs?

https://casetext.com/case/samir-farran-et-al-v-olde-belhaven-towne-owners-association

Khal Spencer

It seems the case was about the HOA's authority to levy fines, not about the sign itself.

"During the 2008 election season, Sam and Maria Farran placed a political sign supporting Barack Obama in the front yard of there home in Fairfax County, Virginia, an area of suburban Washington, D.C. The sign was four inches larger than the maximum sign size permitted by the governing documents, so the board requested that the sign be removed. The Farrans responded by cutting the sign in half, so that two signs complying with the guidelines were formed, reading “OBA”, and “MA”. The board responded by fining the Farrans, and in turn, the Farrans filed a lawsuit against Olde Belhaven Homeowners Association, claiming that the association did not have the authority to levy fines. After a four year battle, the Court ruled that such fines could only be assessed “if the association’s declaration expressly allows it to impose fines or its declaration expressly allows it to adopt rules or regulations which impose fines.” Since the declaration was silent regarding fines, the Court ruled for the Farrans and awarded all attorney fees and costs to be paid by the Association. The association dues were raised from$650 per year to $3500 per year to cover the legal fees and costs, ultimately ending in bankruptcy for the association."

https://www.hoatalk.com/Search/ForumSearch/tabid/87/forumid/1/postid/269543/view/topic/Default.aspx

Michael Reardon

I killed my HOA because of garbage like this. The deed restrictions expired and I insisted they be never reinstated!

It was the best thing to ever happen to my community.

If an HOA thinks it can restrict a right so important as Political Speech, then they are as worthless as the paper the "restrictions" are written on.

I applaud proud Americans like the Robys who have the integrity and guts to refuse to have their hard fought rights limited by a pathetic private government!

Another thing, IF these tin pot banana republics can REALLY trump (no pun intended) any of the bill of rights---THEN there should be a prominent disclosure in BOLD PRINT---IF YOU BUY IN THIS COMMUNITY YOU SURRENDER THE RIGHTS YOU HAVE AS AN AMERICAN CITIZEN.

Richard Bentley

Not every person is a "right fit" for a community with CC&Rs. As a resident of Villas di Toscana and a friend and neighbor of John, I applaud his support of Biden/Harris and his right to free speech, but I suggest he needs to find other ways to express his support of Biden/Harris than this particular action which is in violation of the CC&R's he agreed to follow when moving into this community. How about joining local efforts to Get Out The Vote - volunteer on Election Day - sign up to staff a Phone Bank?

Emily Koyama

All good suggestions....all of which may actually result in more votes for Biden. Despite not being a Biden supporter, I agree with your position. I don't know of anyone who has ever voted for a candidate because they saw a campaign sign in someone's yard...I think this is more about his desire to tell everyone who he supports.

Paul White

The devil is in the details. The bylaws might have a provision that allows the right to foreclose on the property after so many notices. Sounds a bit like the chicken fiasco in Eldorado which cost tens of thousands.

Katherine Martinez

HOA's are a mixed bag of good and down right invasion of one's privacy. My HOA does allow political signs, but limited to no more than 30 days prior to the election and not later than 1 to 2 weeks after. HOA's can be strict, as well as inconsistent. For instance, now at Halloween time I see some very sloppy and amateur attempts at decorating (I know, likely the kids). But how right is it to see what looks like laundry dangling from the trees (sheets, medical gauze, etc), and lopsided or deflated air decorations? Not being a Grinch, but it looks tacky and my dues shouldn't supplement this.

david lapin

The HOA's rules were clear when this couple decided to move in. They're designed to make the neighborhood a more enjoyable place to live. Period! Bucking the agreement and then refusing to honor it goes contrary to that end.

This situation is typical of a growing problem in America. You can see it in other comments supporting this couple. The word "rights" appears in every other sentence. Our country would be far better off if people instead of knowing their rights, knew their obligations.

Kristie Zamrazil

Roby knew the HOA rules before and after he bought his house, yet he chooses to act above the rules like the “nasty” guy he wants to vote out of office. As a life-long Democrat and Texas transplant, I’d say “That dog don’t hunt.” And if Roby truly wants to convince people to vote for Biden, “he loaded the wrong wagon.”

Barb Murphy

WELL SAID!!!!!

Jim Baumberger

While I may agree with them politically, the Robys should respect the Conditions, Covenants, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) of their community. In my opinion, political and other signage is in the same category as having an old pickup truck up on cinder blocks in the front yard with the wheels off. It detracts from the overall beauty and cohesiveness of the community. I would say to them: Enjoy your home, the neat & clean community that surrounds it and the maintenance of property values that your homeowners association, in part, provides. If they don’t like it, plenty of other properties around with no restrictions.

BOB SCHWARTZ

typical left wing democrats , feel that rules don't apply to them, if it were GOP they would be on the ground screaming like spoiled little brats

Nicoletta Munroe

Restriction on political signage in neighborhoods is a method to block political speech, therefore unconstitutional. While the Home Owner Association is a private organization, the Robe home is itself a private dwelling with private rights. The HOA covenant cannot lawfully impinge on the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution Privileges and Immunities Clause that enjoins the right to vote. The Incorporation Doctrine of the Due Process Clause enjoins the Bill of Rights to be enforced by the states. Those rights are enumerated in the First Amendment. The political sign is a form of freedom of speech, and the sign is a method to petition government for redress of grievances, in this case the current administration. I further cite the Fourth Amendment right to be secure in ones home against unlawful search and seizure. The HOA cannot lawfully remove a sign from private property if that sign is legitimate political speech.

Angel Ortiz

Gated communities and HOAs! Amazing how much Santa Fe has changed over the years. Born and raised here. In the 70's I don't recall HOAs and gated communities. Sounds more like a discussion to be had in Newport or Scottsdale. A little too uppity for me.

Khal Spencer

Gated communities in Las Campanas, Newport or Scottsdale, etc. There is more of that stuff in these parts than ever. Elitism is to Santa Fe as peanut butter is to jelly.

Jim Klukkert

Seems 'self-evident' to me, that once we give up our right to self-expression, our lives, not to mention any attendant matters including property, lose a lot of value.

Why an HOA would totally ban self-expression, and why anyone would choose to willingly live under such a regime, escapes me.

Some zoning regulations to keep displays down to a low roar is understandable, but complete bans? Undemocratic to say the least.

Khal Spencer

Well, Jim, this is a major reason I avoid HOAs. Although some here proclaim this is unconstitutional, I don't recall finding any rulings to that effect by those guys in the black robes. If the Roby's want to do so, they are free to bring the issue to the board and HOA membership and ask that the bylaws be amended to allow political signs up to a certain size in front yards, say, up to thirty days (or pick a number of your own choosing) on lawns.

Or, talk to their legislators and suggest a bill such as in some of those other states (see the links I provided).

I had my fill of associations after we were cited in Honolulu for using the wrong shade of paint on our front door and had to repaint it. And we had to make sure the screen door was properly painted brown. My wife got on the condo association board for a while to deflect some of what we called the "Condo N a z i s". We eventually moved out of the association rather than deal with stuff that left both of us with agita. As I said below somewhere, if you don't like the rules, play another game.

I suppose they can put it in their picture window on the inside. That would legitimately be their own business.

I agree on self-expression although one waives some individual options when one buys into an HOA. Otherwise, municipal ordinances apply. As someone else said, one doesn't like neighbors who leave dead pickup trucks on blocks in the front yard, etc. When we lived up in Los Alamos, the people across the street, who had moved here from S. Carolina, ran up the Stars and Bars on Martin Luther King Day. Highly annoying, but their right to do so. We had little to say to them after that episode and a lot of the other neighbors averted there eyes when passing that house after that episode, too.

Shawn Chafins

👍 Nice point Jim.

Archer Hill

They are more than welcome to put the sign in my yard!

Richard Hild

Several errors in this article. First, it didn't disclose that the Roby's daughter is an employee of the newspaper. Second, the property owners of the oversized for sale signs also got notices and fines if not rectified within 14 days. Thirdly, the president of the board never called him, but did e-mail him several days after he placed the sign, and only after he received a complaint from another home owner.

David Cartwright

Very manipulative story. All of our hoa's ban signs other than for sale signs. And the owners that join these HOA's have the right to have them enforced. Do you think that if the neighbors of these two jokers put up ten MAGA signs in their yards, there wouldn't be a complaint from this pair? This is just publicity seeking in the extreme and the New Mexican joins in this unfortunate game only too well.

Khal Spencer

Another bit of reading on the issue.

https://www.hopb.co/blog/freedom-in-associations-exercising-free-speech-rights-in-an-hoa

Khal Spencer

Read before you buy. Interesting explanation here and apparently some states have passed legislation prohibiting HOAs from banning political signs. We don't appear to be one of them.

https://www.hoamanagement.com/hoa-political-signs/

TJ Welch

He paid the fine. The HOA should hold a vote to increase the fine if they want to dissuade homeowners from violating its rules. This situation is not a first amendment issue. It’s clearly (and ironically), a beautiful example of the grey area in the democratic process. Democracy isn’t perfect and pretty. It’s messy and takes work. This form of civil process is exactly what should be happening in a democratic country. To all parties involved —Bravo for working it out peacefully and within the current laws governing your actions!

Richard Reinders

I believe contract law comes into play? the home owner signed a contract agreeing to the rules of the HOA and as Emily stated if they didn't want to sign that contract don't buy in that subdivision, It is only a first amendment issue if there wasn't a contract in place.

Emily Koyama

If you don't like HOA'S and the covenants and rules they can legally impose, don't buy a house in an HOA development. If rules are being inconsistently or selectively enforced, by all means use the procedures in place to address that, but such lax enforcement of rules is not a license to violate the ones you don't like.

David Ford

Well Emily, I must say that I rarely agree with your knee-jerk alt-right views on most anything but your mastery of logic here "...don't buy a house in an HOA..." is pretty much a realistic and reasonable conclusion. You know kinda like if you don't like abortion then don't get one (they are not required BTW)...

Emily Koyama

Yeah ...but the problem with your logic there is that everybody in an HOA has a choice I can make a decision about whether or not they want to live there the baby that is getting torn apart does not get that choice.

Khal Spencer

[thumbup]

Charles W Rodriguez

HOA's are, in general, unconstitutional. The ruling that exempts them fro abridging civil rights is a travesty. No one should be able to sign away their constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Richard Reinders

Are you saying adults can’t make there own decisions

Dan Frazier

I believe Arizona has a state law that specifically addresses this type of situation, and requires that signs of a political nature be allowed on properties, regardless of CC&Rs. There may be size and time restrictions, however. Like, the signs maybe can only be placed within 90 days of an election.

Gretchen Baltuff

I don't have an opinion, but I seem to recall a federal court case many years ago, that addressed this issue. Certainly there's an attorney out there who can provide info. Thanks.

Nancy Kelly

Hmmm. The reporter didn’t mention that the homeowners actually purchased a property in this neighborhood after receiving a copy of the Covenants and Restrictions document for the HOA, which includes a democratic method for proposing changes to the document via membership vote. Can’t help but wonder whether the Biden/Harris team would welcome this kind of “free speech,” frankly.

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