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Army vet in Florida can still fly Puerto Rican flag while HOA reviews policies

Frances Santiago with the Puerto Rican flag outside her Kissimmee home in the Rolling Hills Estates subdivision.

TNS

By STEPHEN HUDAK | Orlando Sentinel | Published: August 23, 2019

ORLANDO, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — The Puerto Rican flag can continue to fly outside Frances and Efrain Santiago’s Kissimmee home while their homeowners association reviews its flag policies.

Frances Santiago said she was told that for now no fines will be assessed against them if they don’t take it down, a reversal of the HOA’s previous warning.

Santiago, whose decade of military service included two tours in Iraq as a medic, said the Rolling Hills Estates homeowners association sent her a letter stating that it is reviewing its policies to “fully determine how best to address the issue of flags in the community.”

She quoted association correspondence that said her request to display the flag of the island territory where she was born “highlighted some challenges to current governing documents."

Homeowners association rules state, “No sign or flag of any kind shall be erected or placed within the property without the consent of the board.”

But many flags fly throughout the neighborhood, including the U.S. flag, sport team banners and the American “thin blue line” flag, honoring law enforcement. The rules should treat everyone in the community equally — and they haven’t, Santiago said.

Federal law, enacted in July 2006, protects the right to fly the American flag.

An HOA officer said in an email the board was advised by a lawyer not to comment.

The Santiagos, who bought their home in the Kissimmee neighborhood in August 2017, often flew an American flag on their garage.

They replaced it last month with the flag of Puerto Rico to show support for thousands of Puerto Ricans who were marching daily through the streets of Old San Juan, demanding the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his Cabinet for alleged corruption.

One woman wrote, “As much as lots of people can understand the reasons for the veteran to fly the Puerto Rico flag, the HOA is in a dilemma. If the HOA allows this to continue without taking action, some other homeowners may want to fly the rainbow flag, the Hong Kong flag or even — we are here in the South — the Confederate flag. Imagine the uproar?”

Others noted the homeowners association treads dangerously if it selectively enforces its rules because its actions can be interpreted as regulating free speech.

“Simply put no exceptions should be given for sports teams , police, etc.,” another emailer wrote.

shudak@orlandosentinel.com

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