By Kathleen Joyce, ,
Published July 10, 2018
A former Air Force air traffic controller said he was forced to sell his home after his Home Owners Association fined him for the American flag he hung in a flower pot outside of his residence.
Larry Murphree lived in the Tides Condominium Association, a community for individuals 55 and older located in Sweetwater, Fla., since it opened, the Washington Post reported Monday. One day he received a letter from the HOA at the building which told him to take down the flag placed in a flower pot on his porch.
"I got a violation letter that stated the American flag was an unauthorized object and for me to take it down," Murphree told First Coast News.
“I lost it,” Murphree said upon receiving the letter. “It just dawned on me there’s people that strap on a gun every day to protect me and the people I love. It’s a small flag, but it stands for a big 'thank you.'”
The veteran said he refused to give in to the request. He kept the flag in the flower pot despite being fined $100 every day.
"They started fining me up to $1,000 because I wouldn't take the flag down," Murphree said.
He said the $1,000 came out of the $100 he was fined each day the flag stayed up.
"We believe we have the right to display the American flag. We filed suit in federal court," Murphee's lawer, Gust Sarris, told First Coast News.
Murphree thought he won after the HOA agreed in 2012 he could keep his flag in the flower pot, but he said the organization changed the “flag ordinance to a flower pot ordinance.”
"Somehow they re-categorized it and started doing the same thing again which was the same flag, the same flower pot, the same dirt and the same plant,” Sarris said.
Murphree was once again charged $100 a day for the flag and the HOA took the money he was fined out of his HOA fee pay, which he was not aware of.
"So, the monthly homeowner's fees weren't being paid," Sarris said, "That's how they were able to get a lien on the property."
Seven years later, the legal battle was still going on, Murphree said. He said the HOA started “nitpicking” and giving him violations for things such as having a window display during Christmas. In the end he was forced to sell his condo three years ago due to the fees and a lien that was placed on it by the retirement condominium’s association or face foreclosure. He was suing for $1 million.
“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 said of the situation.
Murphree said he lives in St. Augustine and has eight flags hanging on his property including one stuck in a flower pot.