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Minnesota Navy veteran could lose his home in dispute over a flagpole

A Navy veteran could lose his home after a dispute over this flagpole he installed in the yard of his St. Michael residence.

THE STAR TRIBUNE/TNS

By JOHN REINAN | Star Tribune | Published: September 16, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — A Navy veteran who installed a pole in his yard to fly the American flag is now in danger of losing his home because of it.

Reed Herman’s home in the Wright County city of St. Michael, Minnesota, has been foreclosed upon by the homeowners association for his development, and the house will be sold for the highest cash offer at a sheriff’s auction Oct. 7.

The Preserve West Townhome Association claims it’s selling the home, valued at around $300,000, to recover about $6,600 in legal fees and other costs associated with the fight over Herman’s flagpole, which the association maintains was installed in violation of the rules Herman agreed to live by when he bought a home in the development.

“Association living, I suppose, is not for everybody. We have a lot of rules, and we sign an agreement to abide by those,” Joanne Dungan, the association’s president, said in an interview.

Herman, meanwhile, has filed a motion in Wright County District Court for an injunction to stop the foreclosure sale. A hearing has been scheduled for next week.

Herman and his attorney, Daniel Moak, both declined to comment on the case, saying they preferred to let their court filings speak for them. Those filings tell the story of a military veteran who wished to fly his country’s flag but went astray in the tightly restricted world of a homeowners association, which controls everything from home decor to pets to shrubbery.

According to court documents, the 62-year-old Herman and his wife, Sandra, bought their home in 2017 in the development on the eastern side of St. Michael.

Herman, who runs a home-inspection business, spent 12 years as a medical corpsman in the Navy and the Naval Reserves and serves as a veteran’s liaison with Wright County Senior Community Services.

In June 2018, Herman sent the homeowners association a written notice that he wanted to install a lighted flagpole in his yard to fly a U.S. flag. He didn’t hear back from anyone, Herman said in court documents, so he made several calls to the management company for the development.

Getting no response from the management company, either, Herman installed an illuminated, in-ground flagpole in his yard in late August 2018 and began flying his flag.

Within two weeks, the association’s lawyer sent him a letter demanding that he immediately remove the flagpole. The association said he had failed to provide written plans for the flagpole installation, as required by its rules.

Herman petitioned the association a second time, and later a third time, asking permission for his flagpole, but the association wouldn’t budge.

Finally, in November 2018, he took it down after the association threatened to fine him $50 a day.

After seemingly dying down, the dispute escalated about a year later. In October 2019, the association told Herman that he owed it $3,700 for attorney fees and costs associated with the flagpole dispute. That number continued to rise as interest and additional costs were added.

Herman offered to discuss a settlement or handle the dispute through mediation, according to court documents, but the association refused. On July 16, the association announced that the sheriff’s sale would be held in October, selling Herman’s home on the sheriff’s doorstep to recover $6,656 it claims he owes.

Dungan said it’s important to note that the homeowners association had no objection to Herman flying an American flag. But it objected to his flagpole, which isn’t permitted under rules that say flags may be flown only from poles attached to homes.

“You cannot govern by exception,” she said. “When we make a decision, it’s not just one property, it’s 128 properties.” Minnesota law, she said, requires that citizens be allowed to fly the U.S. flag, but also allows homeowners’ associations to impose restrictions.

“We have many veterans living here and we honor the flag,” Dungan said. “My husband’s a veteran.

“It has nothing to do with the flag. Just the pole, period.”

In a court filing, however, Herman said there are other in-ground flagpoles in the development that haven’t been targeted for removal, including at least one that flies a Minnesota Vikings flag.

In addition to an injunction stopping the foreclosure sale, Herman seeks a judgment clearing the title to his home.

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