Fighting For His Rights
He couldn’t believe that it had finally come to this. He knew he had made a grave mistake when he’d worn his patriotism on his sleeve, but as far as he was concerned, it was still a free country. Who were they to tell him that he had to change?
Taking one last look at his home, he was about to admit defeat. But then, it dawned on him. America wasn’t called the Home of the Brave for nothing. He had to fight this.
77-year-old War veteran Larry Murphree was extremely proud of his country. He had served six years as an Air Force air traffic controller during the Vietnam War, and although it was an emotional experience, Larry wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Little did he know, the real battle would begin years later — when he moved into a gated community in Sweetwater.
A Quiet Existence
Larry was an unassuming man. He’d worked hard for all he had in his life. He had been a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. He’d served his country.
Now, as he was entering his golden years, he set out to fully enjoy the lifestyle that the Tides Condominiums retirement community afforded him. He never expected them to turn on him.
Too Good To Be True
Initially attracted by the communal pools and tennis courts, he had been one of the first to buy a brand-new house in the gated community. Larry had even been nicknamed “The Mayor” at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Tides Condominiums in Sweetwater, Florida.
Back then, he felt safe. But that was 10 years ago. Now, everything had changed.
Proud Of His Country
Back in 2010, Larry had been sitting on his porch and enjoying the sunshine when he began to feel a touch of nostalgia. Deep in thought about his beloved country, he began to think about all the sacrifices that were made to make it what it was today. Then, he thought about all the sacrifices that were still being made and felt an overwhelming urge to express his gratitude.
Of course, he had no idea that what he was about to do would have repercussions 10 years later.
An Innocent Gesture
Larry decided to put a small American flag on his front porch in a flower pot. Although this was a nod and salute to the United States Of America, it also meant a lot to him. It was a small flag, but it stood for a big thank you.
But that small gesture would end up being one of the biggest mistakes of his life.
Not everyone in Larry’s community was delighted with what he did. Just a few days later, he received a letter. And when Larry read it, he could do nothing but gape in disbelief.
It turned out that the little flag that Larry hadn’t even imagined that anyone would notice — let alone be offended by — was about to become a seriously big problem.
According to the notice of violation, the American flag was an unauthorized object. It also demanded that Larry remove it immediately. Larry felt anger boil inside him as he read the letter. He knew his small tribute flag wasn’t in “violation” of anything! Someone had obviously snitched on him!
Right then and there, Larry made a vow. He would never back down. He wouldn’t let them win. But he was in for another nasty surprise.
A few days passed and the flag still sat in the flower pot — in blatant defiance. In Larry’s eyes, it was his house, his flag, and his porch. Why should he remove it? And why should he hide his patriotism in fear of offending someone else’s delicate sensibilities?
But Larry’s courage and defiance didn’t deter the HOA. In fact, he was only making it worse. He received another letter. And this time, they were going to hit him right where it hurt.
The Second Letter
Larry sniggered as he opened the second letter. What was it this time? But when he read what they had done, the smirk fell right off his face.
It turned out that Larry was fined $100 every day for as long as the flag had been in the flower pot! After 10 days and $1000 in fines, he knew it was time to bring out the big guns.
Taking Them To Court
Larry’s lawyer, Gust Sarris, was equally surprised at this case. But Gust was adamant he would help Larry out. And so, a few weeks later, Gust filed a lawsuit in the federal court.
The two parties ultimately reached an agreement, which was that Larry could keep the flag in the flower pot. But Larry hadn’t realized that the Home Owner Association wasn’t afraid to play dirty.
Changing The Rules
A few months passed and the Home Owner Association amended their flag ordinance to a flower pot ordinance. This meant that Larry could fly his flag on a pole, but not in a plant pot. But then Larry noticed that they kept re-categorizing it and started doing the same thing again.
“The same flag, the same flower, the dirt, and the same plant. When will all this end?” Gust said in an interview. Surely this couldn’t go on forever? Unfortunately for Larry, it was far from over.
An Epic Legal Battle
“I lost it. 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,” Larry said angrily, “…they just started nitpicking everything that I did.”
And the legal war went on for 10 years! And throughout those 10 years, the Home Owner Association started plaguing the veteran himself.
They started to fine him for every infraction they could think of, such as having a snowflake Christmas window decoration up after Christmas, not parking in his driveway straight enough, and for putting up a solar light at Christmas instead of a battery-powered one!
But the battle doesn’t end here. Will Larry get justice?
Out Of Options
To add more fuel to the fire, Larry found out that the Home Owner Association had been making use of his fees to pay off fines that he had incurred instead of using the money for the original purpose. They also placed a charge on the veteran’s property, claiming that he had not been paying his mandatory fees.
This stress, financial difficulties, and turbulence of the past few years left Larry with no other options.
Larry, unfortunately, had to sell his home. But he didn’t sell it at a fantastic price, either. He sold his home at a tremendous loss, but he knew that he had to get out of there.
Larry made his new house a home, but he never forgot the stress the Home Owner’s Associated inflicted on him. They had forced him out of his home, but he was ready for one last fight.
By now, Larry’s battle with the HOA had gotten so much attention that he was told to stop talking to the media.
“This is America, this is a man who served this country, put his life on the line. He wants to represent the country with a little flag in his yard and he can’t? And he’s brought to court?” argued Roger Dodd, one of Larry’s supporters. And, on February 24, 2020, Larry returned to court.
Suing For Damages
Larry took the stand in a courtroom full of supporters on both sides of a case that’s gotten national attention. And this time, he was seeking $1 million in damages. Several spectators wore flag-themed clothing in solidarity.
Larry and the homeowners association each presented their case to Circuit Judge Robert M. Dees at the Duval County courthouse.
After his 10-year battle, Larry agreed to an out-of-court settlement. In the years since he sold his Sweetwater condo, he got married and has moved into a new home in St. Augustine.
He likes his new community a lot better – there are no flag restrictions. He currently has eight flags displayed on his property, and yes, one of them is in a flower pot on the front porch.
Standing Up For Yourself
It’s a shame that Larry, who believed that expressing pride for your country is one of the simplest things that can be done, was forced out of his condo. It’s inspiring to see a man like Larry stand up for himself against the Goliath Homeowners Association and we’re both positive and hoping that the rules will soon be changed.
And if not? We’re even more positive that Larry will be there ready to stand up for those just like him.