A veteran put an American flag on his porch. Now he’s headed to court.

Matt Saintsing
July 05, 2018 - 6:21 pm

Photo Courtesy of Gust Sarris

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They say freedom isn’t free, but a 77-year-old Air Force veteran in Florida is finding out that showing patriotism can cost quite a bit, including his home. 

Jacksonville resident Larry Murphree says he was forced to sell his house at the Tides Condominium in Sweetwater over a battle involving the homeowner’s association (HOA), and a small American Flag. 

It all started seven years ago when Murphree wanted to display a modest Old Glory in a flower pot on his front porch as a way to show his love for his country, and respect for the troops. 

“It’s a small flag, but stands for a big thank you,” he says. But the HOA viewed it differently and sent him a violation letter calling the 17-inch flag, an “unauthorized object.” 

“That’s when I lost it,” says Murphree. 

The HOA fined him $100 each day the flag was in the pot, which eventually ran up $1,000 in fees. So, Murphree enlisted the help up lawyer Gust Sarris, who filed a lawsuit in federal court. Sarris says the HOA settled in 2012 and the two sides agreed that the flag could fly. But according to Sarris, the HOA turned the flag restriction into a flower pot ordinance instead. 

“They decided they weren’t going to regulate flags, but flowerpots,” says Sarris. “Some people call this the ‘Larry Law.’” 

Murphree again was being charged $100 each day. And to add insult to injury, his HOA fees were being used to pay down his fines without his knowledge. 

Put another way, Murphree thought he was paying the required fees every month to live in the 55+ community, but unbeknownst to him was becoming delinquent on those payments. It only got worse from there. 

“It got to where they were nitpicking every little thing I did and made life miserable,” says Murphree. 

The HOA sent him violation after violation. Once because the lights wrapped around his outside tree were solar-powered when the HOA requires them to be battery-operated. Another time, they complained that the lights on his bushes were too bright, and cited Murphree once again because his car was not parked directly in front of his garage door. 

Murphree claims these “violations” were a retaliation after they reached a settlement. “They didn’t like losing that case, and it got worse, and worse every day,” he adds.
 
Eventually, the fees became so large – and he was so distraught—that Murphree sold his condo at a huge loss to avoid being foreclosed on. 

Murphree and the HOA are due back in court for a trial beginning next year, this time in state circuit court. Sarris calls the whole ordeal, “insane” and is seeking damages from the HOA for infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract. 

“HOAs are there to maintain the integrity, peacefulness, and serenity, and this HOA has done anything but that,” says Sarris. 

“I just feel like at some point people need to stand up and go to the wall for what they believe in,” adds Murphree. 

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