Beware HOA’s drunk on power: Vietnam vet finally wins fight to fly Old Glory after bitter decades-long dispute

Home owners associations (HOAs) have a reputation for being overbearing and nit-picky. As the nation at large becomes more polarized, it seems patriotic flag-waving veterans who want to show their allegiance and support for the military increasingly have become targets for those sitting on the HOA boards who love exercising their power.

Richard Oulton, Marine War Vet in Virginia

Twenty years ago the Wyndham Home Owners Association in Henrico, Virginia, told Richard Oulton that his 25-foot flag pole violated neighborhood by-laws, creating a “visual nuisance.” A long, bitter dispute went to court and the Vietnam veteran lost. His flag pole came down.

Now, thanks to a little help from Republican Virginia state Delegate John McGuire, a new flag pole has been erected in Oulton’s yard. Oulton said that it is about honoring the memory of 749 Marines with whom he served.

McGuire said, “I was going to do everything I could to get that flag pole. The least we can do is get a flag pole up so he can remember his brothers.”

It took two appeals and a vote from fellow homeowners who unanimously supported Oulton, and finally, the hard-fought battle to support American troops and remember his own Marine Corps buddies was won. The HOA agreed to allow Oulton’s American flag to fly again.

Oulton served as a medic in Vietnam with the 1st Battalion 9th Marines … a unit with the infamous tagline “The Walking Dead” because it suffered so many casualties.

The Vietnam vet is planning to hold a flag-raising ceremony in April, using the flag that flew over his bunker in Nam … a bit faded and tattered, but holding a great deal of significance. Said Oulton, “The memories are always there. Unfortunately, they’re deep inside me and I can’t clear them out.”

Larry Murphree, Air Force Vet in Florida

Another veteran who recently tired of a costly, ongoing battle with his condo association in Sweetwater, Florida, ended up selling his condo at a loss when he could not keep the board from harassing him and charging him exorbitant fees for contrived violations.

Larry Murphree is a six-year Air Force veteran who was one of the Tides Condominiums first owners when the condos opened up.

One day, a roving neighborhood compliance agent took note of an “unauthorized object” on his front porch–a small 17″ American flag in a flower pot. He was advised by letter that he would have to remove it or face a $100 daily fine till he did. “I lost it,” Murphree recalled. “It just dawned on me there are 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 vet fought the HOA for seven years and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars according to his attorney’s estimate. The HOA bylaws allow residents to fly flags on poles but not to place them in flower pots, according to court documents.

Murphree pleaded his case during HOA board meetings, then went to federal and state courts. He points out that Florida laws and federal statutes allow people to display the U.S. flag.

The Freedom to Display the American Flag Act prohibits HOAs and condo associations from preventing residents from displaying the flag. But it also allows for reasonable restrictions, which seems to be the loophole HOAs exploit.

Murphree had evidently won the battle in April 2012. The condo association settled, paid his court fees, and allowed him to keep his small flag in the flower pot. But a short time later, the condo association drafted new rules that didn’t mention flags. Instead, the new regulations governed how residents could display flower pots, dirt, and watering bulbs.

“Once again,” one of his lawsuits stated, “Murphree began to incur fines of $100 per day for displaying the same American flag in the same flower pot, with the same flower and dirt in the same limited common area despite the fact that no changes were made since the settlement agreement was executed.”

Murphree continued to ignore the homeowners association’s threats. Then he had neck surgery and spent months in recovery.

At some point during that time the homeowners association began using the money they were withdrawing for his dues to pay the fines. As a result, unknown to Murphree, he fell way behind on his HOA dues. According to Murphree, the condo association began to nitpick, tagging him for not parking his car appropriately in his driveway, or powering his Christmas lights with a solar panel instead of a battery.

Facing foreclosure, he sold his house at a financial loss three years ago. He moved in with the woman he married and has not regretted his escape from The Tides. He lives in St. Augustine and is enjoying his new community. The HOA doesn’t restrict the placement of flags on residents’properties. Murphree currently has eight flags displayed, including one in a flower pot on his front porch.

Beware the HOA

Important to note, if you are living in a home with a home owners association over you, your obligations to the community association can be significant. Use your vote wisely when electing board officers, as such power can quickly go to one’s head.

A prominent Florida attorney, Paul Urich, states on his website:  “The home owners association is actually more dangerous than the mortgage company. Most HOAs are reasonable and try to preserve property values and can be dealt with in a controversy. Some others are pure evil. Getting into a peeing match with the HOA is a losing proposition. They are on the deed to your home in the restrictions and covenants section of your deed. The HOA has great power. Depending on the restrictions and covenants you signed, they can impose fines. Also, they can use the fines or the delinquent HOA dues to put a lien on your home.”


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