Sweetwater, FL – A former Air Force air traffic controller said he was forced from his retirement home by the Home Owners Association (HOA) after he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and seven years battling to keep an American flag in his front yard.
Larry Murphree was fined $100 by the Tides Condominium Association for every day he had an “unauthorized object,” in the form of a 17-inch American flag, on his front porch, The Washington Post reported.
“I lost it,” Murphree said of his reaction when he received the letter notifying him of the fine. “It just dawned on me there’s people that strap on a gun every day to protect me and the people I love.”
Murphree was one of the first people to buy a home at the Tides Condominiums at Sweetwater, a community for people over 55 years of age. He cut the ribbon at one of the opening ceremonies and had been nicknamed “The Mayor” by other residents, according to The Washington Post.
The retired veteran said that the only issue he had with the neighborhood was that many of the homes looked alike, and neighbors frequently pulled into the wrong driveway. Plus there were monitors who kept an eye on all the houses to tattle if somebody did something that violated the community’s very strict bylaws.
His battle with the HOA began in 2011 after he began displaying a 17-inch flag in a flower pot on his front porch.
"It's a small flag," Murphree told WTLV, "but it stands for a big thank you."
The HOA began fining him, so he got an attorney to fight them.
"We believe we have the right to display the American flag, we filed suit in federal court," attorney Gust Sarris told WTLV.
Sarris filed suit and argued that Florida laws and federal statutes allowed people to display the U.S. flag. In fact, The Freedom to Display the American Flag Act prohibits homeowners associations and condo associations from stopping residents from displaying the flag.
However, associations are allowed reasonable restrictions, and Murphree’s community’s bylaws only permitted residents to fly flags from flagpoles, according to the Washington Post.
Murphree thought the battle was over in 2012 when the condo association settled with him, paid his court fees, and agreed to allow him to keep his American flag in the flower pot on his front porch.
But a short time later, the HOA changed up the neighborhood rules and added new guidelines that governed how residents could display flower pots. Suddenly, Murphree’s flag was in violation of the HOA’s bylaws yet again.
The HOA began fining him $100 a day again, and started withdrawing the money they said was owed for fines from his monthly association dues, which left him in overdue for his condo fees.
Murphree said he had no idea it was happening because he’d just had neck surgery and was “in a fog” when they began deducting the money, according to the Washington Post.
He said they also began to cite him for not parking his car appropriately in his own driveway, and for powering his Christmas lights with a solar panel instead of a battery.
"They just started nitpicking everything that I did," Murphree told WTLV.
By the time he realized the HOA was deducting his fines from the money he was paying for condo fees three years ago, he was enough in the hole that the condo association was able to file for a lien on his property.
Murphree said he had to sell his home at a significant loss due to mounting fees and imminent foreclosure, The Washington Post reported. He also said he no longer wanted to live in the community after what they’d put him through.
“Should any man who served in the military lose his home, a retirement home, because they want to be patriotic? Anybody can see that the HOA has gone overboard,” Sarris told the Washington Post.
Now, Murphree has a court date and is suing the condominium association for $1 million.
“He’s probably lost… hundreds of thousands of dollars of his retirement money, not to mention the time he’ll never get back from having to fight this battle,” his attorney said.
The HOA has not responded to calls from the media seeking comment.