A homeowner’s association in Houston, TX is suing a former Marine for disobeying its rules and erecting a 20 ft. flagpole to fly his Marine Corps and American flags. The HOA’s argument? The pole flapping in the wind poses “imminent harm” and “causes noise to other homeowners.” But neighbors say they don’t mind, and now a prominent U.S. lawmaker has stepped up to support the Marine.
The Marine is 60-year-old Mike Merola, an 8-year veteran who served from 1969-1977. He moved to the Lakeland Village Community in 2009, and almost immediately started lobbying the Lakeland Village Community Association to allow him to erect his flagpole. They said no. Recently, he did it anyway:
“They just don’t understand, unless they’ve been in the military, to feel the pride that I feel in flying that flag high and proud,” Merola told the Houston Chronicle. “The excuses and things that they came up with for me not being able to fly that flagpole, I just didn’t buy. That’s why I bucked the system and put it up.”
Those excuses range from the potential for the flagpole to do damage, to noise concerns.
The HOA’s suit alleges the pole is “a detriment to Lakeland Village and … (causes) imminent harm and irreparable injury to (the association).” According to the Chronicle, the suit seeks a court order to remove the flagpole, payment of attorneys’ fees, and a $10 fine for every day the pole stays up. But Merola gave a different figure to KHOU, telling the news station the HOA is “suing me for $200 a day and lawyers’ fees and everything.”
“The problem with a flagpole of that height and that significance is that it flaps in the wind and causes noise to other homeowners,” HOA lawyer Nina Tran told the Chronicle. According to her, Merola’s pole is a slippery slope: “If we allow the mounting of a 20-foot freestanding flagpole in the backyard, who’s to say that the next person isn’t going to mount it to the top of their roof? We have to have standards.”
She explained American flags are not banned — residents are encouraged to fly them — but rather it’s the flagpole that’s the problem. In fact, Merola would be allowed to fly his flags if they were on a 6-foot pole attached to his house.
But that just won’t do for Merola. And despite him knowingly breaking the HOA’s rules, neighbors are standing by his choice.
“That’s not a problem for me,” Lakeland Village resident Jim King admitted to KHOU, “if you can’t fly a United States flag in the United States, we’re hurtin’.”
“The homeowners association should look at the rules again,” Satish Kalra, Merola’s next-door neighbor, told the Chronicle. “If the rules need to be modified, they should be modified. … That would be the logical thing to do.”
Merola’s attorney Lee Thweatt agrees. He also thinks the HOA’s position violates the Freedom to Fly the American Flag Act of 2005. “I don’t understand why the homeowners association overreacted like this,” Thweatt, a fellow Marine veteran who has taken on the case for free, told the Chronicle. “I understand they have to protect the property values of the people in that subdivision, but they’ve had no complaints. It’s not like the guy painted his house neon orange.”
U.S. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) thinks Merola and his lawyer have a point. Poe took to the House floor on Friday to vigorously defend Merola.
“Marines and sailors and soldiers, and members of the Coast Guard have fought under that flag all over the world and have died for that flag so the association can exist down there in northwest Houston,” he said during an impassioned speech:
“I just feel the liberties and things are being chipped away at,” Merola told KHOU. “By flying this flag, it shows my respect and honor to this country for those of us who have served before.”