Anyone who has dealt with a homeowners association knows how crazy rules can get, and Air Force veteran Larry Murphree is no different.
Nicknamed “The Mayor” at the ribbon cutting of the Tides Condominiums at Sweetwater, Murphree was one of the first residents to purchase a home in the community, nearly a decade ago. The veteran liked that he could stay busy — there is a pool, tennis courts, a large clubhouse and it’s gated, so he would feel safe.
By design, however, the entire complex is very homogeneous, and any attempts to personalize property are very much frowned upon, if not plainly rejected, by the HOA. Everything from flowers to Christmas lights are monitored and flagged for violations, often resulting in fines — even American flags.
“One day I was thinking about the country, and I put a small American flag on my front porch in a flower pot,” Murphree said.
Murphree explained that he didn’t think anyone would even notice the small flag in his pot, and that it held deep, personal significance for him.
“It’s a small flag,” Murphree said, “but it stands for a big thank you.”
Shortly after he added the little flag to his front porch flower pot, he received a letter from the HOA at his complex, Tides Condominium in Sweetwater, that told him it needed to be removed.
“I got a violation letter that stated the American flag was an unauthorized object and for me to take it down,” Murphree said.
This veteran wasn’t about to let a letter dictate how he decorated his flower pot, nevertheless where he could place a small American flag.
“They started fining me up to $1,000 because I wouldn’t take the flag down,” Murphree stated.
They charged him a fee of $100 for each day that he left the flag in place. After 10 days, and $1000 in fines later, Gust Sarris, a lawyer, got involved and the two filed a lawsuit against the HOA.
Gust Sarris argued that Florida laws and federal statues allow people to display the American flag, and the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act prohibits HOAs and condo associations from allowing residents to do so, while allowing for reasonable restrictions.
“We believe we have the right to display the American flag, we filed suit in federal court,” Sarris said.
They brought the case to court, where they agreed that the flag could be flown through mediation.
Yet, just months later, HOA changed their new flag ordinance to a flower pot ordinance, to get around the previously agreed upon guidelines. Because of this, Murphree started getting charged again, this time for the flower pot where the flag is placed.
“Somehow they re-categorized it and started doing the same thing again,” Sarris said, “which was the same flag, the same flower pot, the same dirt and the same plant.”
The legal battle between Murphree and the HOA has been on-going over the past seven years, the HOA constantly finding new ways to fine the veteran.
“They just started nitpicking everything that I did,” Murphree said.
Some of the violation fees Murphree has received include not parking in his driveway straight enough, leaving a snowflake Christmas window decoration up after Christmas, and for putting solar lights up at Christmas.
After seven years of fighting the HOA, Murphree is now forced to sell his condo to avoid foreclosure.
“Sold my place at a tremendous loss and got out of here,” Murphree said about leaving.
Even though Murphree is moving on, he’s not backing down from the legal battle.
“Somebody had to stand up and say, ‘this is not right,'” the veteran told First Coast News.
First Coast News reported that “based on previous court records, the only thing the HOA permits in a planter is foliage/plants/flowers.”
The HOA has yet to comment on the story. You can find Florida’s HOA laws here.
(H/T: First Coast News)