A West Hollywood tenant and his landlords reached an out-of-court agreement Tuesday under which the tenant will be allowed to resume flying a Gay Pride banner from his balcony.
John Stout, 31, had filed suit a few weeks ago in Los Angeles Superior Court, contending that the owners and managers of an apartment complex at 727 Westbourne Drive had violated his constitutional rights to free speech when they ordered him to take down the flag.
The agreement was worked out by attorneys for both sides Tuesday after Superior Court Judge Billy G. Mills told them that while he was ready to hand down a verdict, "I really think you can resolve it."
About four hours later, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jon W. Davidson, representing Stout, and attorney Alexander H. Pope, representing the landlords, said they had reached agreement.
"I'm really glad that it's resolved at last," Stout said later. "This means I can continue with my life style; that I can express myself freely whenever I want to."
Stout's suit contended that the landlords' order was motivated, in part, by their knowledge that Stout, a rehabilitation counselor at the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center, is gay.
Stout's 3-by-5-foot rainbow-hued banner is a symbol of pride and unity among gays and lesbians. It is the same flag that adorns the median strip on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, where an estimated 30% of the 32,000 residents are avowedly gay or lesbian.
Stout contended that he was allowed to drape the flag over his second floor balcony railing for two years before the resident managers, Harold and Monique Apter, ordered him to take it down last May.
Attorneys for the owners said that because Stout's balcony is directly over the main entrance to the 43-unit complex, it was not clear that the banner was intended to make a personal statement for Stout, rather than for the building as a whole.
"I was really infuriated that they ordered me to take down something that meant a great deal to me," Stout said.
He started flying the banner again last August, and a few weeks later, a lawyer for the apartment's management companies, Westbourne Venture and Venture Property Management, threatened legal action if the flag was not removed.
"Our client does not permit signs, flags and the like, no matter what organization is represented, with the exception of permitting American flags to be displayed on national holidays," attorney Stephen C. Phillips wrote.
Stout removed the banner, but his lawyers disputed the companies' claim, saying that while the house rules mention "signs, advertisements, notices doorplates and similar devices," they "don't say anything about flags, which are in an altogether different category."
Under the agreement reached Tuesday, Stout will be permitted to fly the flag within the confines of his balcony, rather than draped over the railing, Davidson and Pope said. The lawyers said this will make it clear that Stout is making a personal statement.
Stout had asked for damages and attorneys' fees in his suit. The lawyers declined to disclose how these issues were resolved.