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.’ ”