When Sam and Maria Farran planted a lawn sign for Obama in their yard during the 2008 election, they had no idea what a huge ordeal it would become. Now more than four years and another election later, the battle over that one measly sign is still being waged, and it's been nothing but ugly, tearing apart their entire Virginia neighborhood.
According to a fascinating story in the Washington Post, it all started because the sign was a mere four inches bigger than the Home Owners Association (HOA) allowed. When the HOA approached the couple about the sign, they didn't just remove it, instead they chopped it half and made two signs -- "OBA" and "MA". Kind of funny, kind of clever, right? The HOA wasn't laughing, however, and fined the couple $900. Steep!
Of course it didn't end there, and after their proposal for some renovations was denied, they decided to sue. They said their freedom of speech was being thwarted, and their neighbors either agreed ... or strongly disagreed. From finding bullets in their yard to someone trying to get a priest at their church to get them to put a stop to the lawsuit, it's been ugly and costly.
A court sided with the Farrans and said the HOA had to pay their legal fees, which forced it to go bankrupt. Now HOA fees have skyrocketed (from $650 a year to about $3,500) and they're being forced to sell a common area that was once the place of community gatherings. All because of one small sign. Crazy right?
Absolutely, but the thing is if you choose to live in a community governed by an HOA, you need to be ready to either work to change the rules you don't agree with or follow them. Just breaking them isn't the way to go. And while the rigidity of some of them is pretty ridiculous, they do have to set limits at some point. So if one sign is four inches too big, what if the next is 14 inches too big, and so forth.
The bottom line is if you don't like the rules, you don't have to live there. You can go live in a non-HOA-ruled neighborhood, where anyone can plunk an old bathtub in their front yard. So while I sympathize with the Farrans on some level and think this seems to be a particularly militant HOA, they're the ones who broke the rules and chose to escalate things, and now the entire neighborhood has to pay.
Which side are you on?
Image via animantis/Flickr