An Obama lawn sign battle that began in 2008 in an Olde Belhaven neighborhood between a Northern Virginia Fairfax County family and their homeowner’s association cost the community more than just money, according to a Feb. 9 Washington Post report.
The battle began after Sam and Maria Farran planted the sign in their year during the 2008 presidential elections. The sign was four inches taller than the home association’s covenants allowed. An upset neighbor sent in an email complaining, “Need I say more! This would lead to chaos. Our property values would be put at risk.”
After four years in courts, the homeowners’ association went bankrupt. Things grew so bad that the common area of Olde Belhaven was put up for sale last year to settle its debts. “It destroyed our community,” Maria Farran said.
The issue created a stark divide in the community with the Farrans saying they were standing up to the homeowner’s association, while supporters of the homeowner’s association saw a selfish couple bankrupting a community just to make a point.
The Farrans, who acknowledge that the sign broke the rules, said that after they were asked to remove the sign, chose to instead cut it in half, planting “OBA” and “MA” signs in front of their yard, making a point that their free speech would not be abridged.
The home association board was not amused. Board members passed a resolution allowing the board to levy a $900 fine for the infraction. When the board later rejected the Farran’s roof and deck projects for aesthetic and architectural reasons, the Farrans said it was retaliation.
“It’s like we weren’t living in America,” Maria Farran said. “You are always one board election away from a tyranny. They wield enormous power.” The Farrans filed a lawsuit against the association saying it didn’t have the authority to impose fines and had ejected their home improvements in retaliation for the lawn sign dispute.
The legal fight that followed was nasty. At one point, the Farrans even discovered bullets in their yard. As the case wore on, the association increased dues from $650 a year to about $3,500, mostly to cover legal fees. In 2010, a county judge sided with the Farrans, setting a Virginia precedent that home owners’ associations arbitrarily claim powers not specified in their covenants. The next year, another court ruled in favor of the Farrans on the roof and deck dispute.
The association was tapped to pay the Farran’s $100,000 legal fees and thousands of its own fees. The residents voted for bankruptcy when the association said it lacked money to pay the fees. The end result was that the heart of the community, its square was put up for sale by the bankruptcy court to cover the cost of the lawsuit. As for the Farrans, they ended up with their new deck and new roof.
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