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Florida homeowners association dispute headed to court

A Florida man is suing the homeowners association in his former condominium community, seeking to recoup money he lost in a long-running dispute with the association – and more. He recently got a court date for a trial, and he's seeking $1 million.

At the root of the dispute?

The American flag.

Seven years ago, the condominium association in his Sweetwater, Florida., neighborhood sent him a notice to remove the "unauthorized object" – the flag – on his front porch. If he failed to remove the 17-inch flag, he'd face a $100 daily fine.

The Air Force veteran refused to do so.

Over the years, the dispute has cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars he had saved for retirement. He also had to move because fees from the association, combined with a lien placed by the group, left his home on the verge of foreclosure. By then, he really didn't want to live there anyway.

At one point, he'd found his heaven in the seniors community. He was among the first residents and liked that it had many amenities to keep him busy and active.

The only thing he didn't like was the uniformity of all the units. The homeowners association didn't like any touches that didn't conform with its rules, and monitors searched for potential violations. Flowers and Christmas lights had to be removed, in many cases.

When he put his flag in a flower pot – the bylaws allow flags on poles but not in pots – he received his notice of violation. He asked the board to reconsider, then took his case the legal route.

And finally, that route will take him to court.

He sold the house at a loss and now lives in St. Augustine. A local veterans group, he said, puts out flags along the road on some national holidays. And he's now free to display the eight U.S. flags he has – and he even has placed one in a flower pot.

Homeowners associations make rules to maintain order in the community and to keep it looking beautiful to prevent property values from falling. Sometimes, though, associations have been known to go too far. If you have a dispute within your community, it would be wise to consult with an experienced real estate attorney.

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