HOA Versus Tank
Tony Buzbee, a lawyer in Houston, Texas caused a rumble in his wealthy suburban neighborhood in the fall of 2017. The grandson of a Normandy veteran, Buzbee had a keen interest in WWII artifacts, but no one expected him to bring home a 70,000 pound antique.
The fully operational M4 Sherman tank, named Cheyenne, was purchased by Buzbee in 2016. After a year of clearing customs in France, then England, Cheyenne was delivered to Buzbee and parked on the street outside his grand home.
Children enjoyed climbing on the tank, and drivers slowed down to admire the half-million-dollar piece of history.
Despite the growing fanfare, River Oaks Property Group contacted Buzbee and requested he remove the tank, siting safety and traffic concerns.
Buzbee claims the HOA needn’t have worried. His plan was and is to move the WWII heirloom to his East Texas ranch soon.
HOA VERSUS DINOSAURS
In 2015, Nancy Hentschel from Sugar Land, Texas brought home two new roommates – Holms and Cassandra.
At approximately 8 feet tall and 14 feet long, this quiet couple caused an uproar (pun intended) in the pretty, tree-lined neighborhood.
Holms and Cassandra were giant dinosaur sculptures made of spot-welded sheet metal. A T-Rex and velociraptor, they stood poised and ready to attack on either side of the front walkway.
Hentschel picked up the pair on a trip to Arizona. Although the neighbors didn’t seem to mind, and selfies with the dinos were popular, the homeowners’ association was less than amused.
New Territory Residential Community Association threatened to fine Hentschel $200 each day the reptiles remained on display. The HOA defined the dinos as appurtenances, banned per their contract. An appurtenance is “an accessory or other item associated with a particular activity or style of living.”
Hentschel attempted to get around the HOA law by claiming the duo was a holiday decoration. Under the HOA rules, holiday décor was allowed on display for three days during holidays. “If you go online, you can find a holiday for every day!” Hentschel said.
Her attempt failed, and Hentschel moved to the country, far from HOA rule.
HOA VERSUS CHRISTMAS DISPLAY
Jeremy Morris moved his family to Hayden, Idaho in 2015. Looking for a way to raise donations for children’s charities, Morris created a Christmas extravaganza in his front yard. The event was open to the public during evening hours that holiday season.
Holiday displays usually feature strands of lights and glowing figurines. An ambitious Morris, however, added a live camel, professional nativity characters, and a free shuttle to and from his home.
When the West Hayden Estates Home Owner’s Association heard about the event, Morris was asked to pull the plug – literally. The HOA claimed Morris’ display was “offensive to the senses.”
Despite HOA threats to sue, Morris continued with the event in 2015 and again the following year, drawing in thousands of visitors.
All festivities came to a halt in 2017, however. Morris alleged continued harassment from homeowners’ association members and is preparing for a federal court case in which he will seek deannexation from the HOA and $250,000 in punitive damages.
HOA Versus Roses
Homeowners associations can set rules from house paint color to fence height. Unfortunately for Jeffrey DeMarco of Rancho Santa Fe, California, his HOA had very specific architectural design rules on the books.
In 1991, DeMarco began to plant rows (and rows) of rose bushes on his four-acre property. With an affinity for the flower, DeMarco set out to create a “Ranch of 10,000 roses.” The Rancho Santa Fe Association, however, halted his plan.
The HOA’s rules forbade allowing any one plant to dominate a landscape. And a separate law prohibited linear planting. DeMarco had planted his roses in straight lines across his terraced hill.
Ignoring HOA threats, DeMarco continued work on his extensive rose garden. Sadly for this homeowner and his prized roses, a court case ensued and he was left paying the HOA’s $70,000 legal bill and losing his home to foreclosure.
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HOA Versus Brown Lawn
Can a 66-year-old retiree be thrown in jail for failing to maintain a green lawn? In 2008, Joseph Prudente of Hudson, Florida discovered the answer.
That year, Joe and his wife, Pat received letters from law enforcement claiming the lawn in their Bayonet Point subdivision was too brown with an excessive number of weeds. The couple watered and fertilized the yard, but their efforts were unsuccessful.
Prudente’s HOA sided with local cops and notified the court of the homeowner’s less-than-attractive plot of grass. Apprehended on charges of failing to maintain his lawn to community standards, Prudente headed to jail sporting a “Grandpa Gone Wild” t-shirt.
When neighbors heard the news, many came to the rescue and re-sodded the Prudentes’ lawn. Joe was able to return home. Lesson learned? The grass is greener outside of the prison gates.
HOA Versus Wilbur the Pig
Missy Sardo of Spring, Texas received a piglet named Wilbur as a gift from her husband one Christmas. The Vietnamese potbelly pig was just 7-weeks-old and the size of a kitten. Several pounds later, house-broken and a playmate of the Sardo’s toddler son, Wilbur was part of the family.
However, in 2011, The Thicket at Cypresswood Community Improvement Association determined that Wilbur’s presence defied HOA laws, which banned “any wild, semi-wild, or semi-domesticated” household pet. The fate of the now 65-pound swine was in jeopardy. The Sardos had 30 days to kick Wilbur to the curb or face a lawsuit.
Wilbur’s family hired an HOA law specialist who argued that potbellied pigs are not raised for food or farm labor and, therefore, are not livestock. This strategy worked, and in 2012, a judge declared Wilbur a household pet. The potbelly pig had gained an online following during the ordeal. His fans were thrilled, as was his family. Even the North American Potbellied Pig Association (NAPPA) was pleased and commended the attorney for saving Wilbur from eviction.
Wilbur returned to his cushy life of chomping on cucumbers, carrots, and strawberries and napping under the pool table.
HOA Versus Pink Playhouse
Becky Rogers-Peck wanted a safe, fun place for her 4-year-old granddaughter to play. So, for Christmas 2011, she constructed a playhouse for little Aubree in her Evans, Georgia backyard. Keeping in mind Aubree’s favorite colors, Becky painted the structure pink and purple.
This story would end here with a happy ending if not for those pesky rules of her neighborhood’s homeowners’ association. The HOA specified that all sheds and garages must be the same color as the house – in Becky’s case, brown.
In August 2012, Becky was sued by the association and ordered to change the playhouse’s color. Local residents were shocked. Even some HOA members protested, complaining that their money was being used in a frivolous manner over the color of a playhouse not even visible from the street.
As quickly as it was initiated, the lawsuit was dropped that October with no reason provided by the HOA. The redheaded grandmother exclaimed, “They didn’t know who they were messing with!” She also credited the widespread publicity for the lawsuit’s termination. Becky, who had never complied with orders to change the playhouse’s color, gave Aubree the good news that her pink and purple house was there to stay.
HOA Versus Shingles
Joe Woodard of Sanford, Florida lost his wife and child when a plane crashed into their home in 2007. Attempting to move on with his life, Woodard began construction on a new house on his Orlando-area lot.
Just weeks before he was to move in, the Preserve at Lake Monroe Homeowners Association informed him the newly built home did not meet their standards. Three features were in opposition to HOA guidelines – The shingles did not match existing homes in the neighborhood, the house’s elevation was inconsistent with adjacent homes, and the new structure stood too far back by a couple feet.
Woodard was asked to tear down the brand-new structure and build the same house as the original. Living in an exact replica of his first home would bring back painful memories, Woodard argued, which is why he had altered the floor plans in the first place.
Threatened with a lawsuit, the widower gave in to the unsympathetic homeowners’ association.
HOA Versus Flag Pole
Retired Army Col. Van T. Barfoot had served in three wars and received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on German troops in WWII. Years later, he would be fighting a very different foe – his neighborhood’s HOA.
In 2009, settling into his new Richmond, Virginia home, Col. Barfoot erected a 21-foot flagpole in his front yard. His daily routine was to raise the flag at sunrise, lower the Stars and Stripes at dusk, then respectfully bring the folded flag indoors for the night.
Concerned more with curb appeal than an allegiance to the flag, the Sussex Square development’s homeowners’ association asked Col. Barfoot to remove the pole. HOA rules directed homeowners to display flags only on a house-mounted bracket. When he protested, the association threatened to take the 90-year-old veteran to court.
A few months later, amidst growing national publicity and overwhelming support for the Army hero, the HOA relented and allowed the colonel to keep the national flag flying on his front lawn.
HOA Versus Mailbox
Keith Strong, a retired NASA solar physicist, lived in a community of million-dollar homes near Washington, DC. Residents here could afford the basic home expenses, but when the neighborhood’s HOA required homeowners spend $500 to upgrade their mailboxes, many protested.
In 2008, the Pleasant Prospect Home Owners’ Association decided the subdivision’s existing cedar-covered mailboxes were deteriorating. Rather than ask residents to buy new cedar boxes for $35, the HOA passed an ordinance that mandated all homeowners purchase an upscale mailbox priced at $500. The new boxes were a bronze metal with a monogrammed “W” to represent the Woodmore golf community.
Strong believed the HOA had overstepped its authority in requiring homeowners to pick up the tab for the pricey mailboxes. He left his wood mailbox standing and took the HOA to court.
After seven years and $33,000 spent on legal fees, Strong won his case. The homeowners’ association was forced to abolish their unpopular “mailbox rule.”
HOA Versus Garage Doors
In Auburn, California, one HOA may have benefited from a crash-course in “Problem Solving 101.”
When an Auburn Greens Homeowners’ Association member discovered one resident’s garage had become home to a group of vagabonds, the association arrived at a unique solution.
For the first week of 2018, residents were ordered to keep their garage doors open from 8 AM to 4 PM. The reasoning? An open garage door would shine the light on any unwelcome squatters.
The obvious concern for homeowners was theft of their garage belongings. An open door would invite in burglars, forget about sleeping strangers. However, residents were threatened with a day in court and a $200 fine for noncompliance.
While some homeowners ignored the mandate, others cleared their garage of valuables and complied with the 8-hour-long open-door policy.