(Billy Hallowell) Some housing developments have homeowners associations (HOA) that impose strict rules and regulations. While some of the stipulations seem silly, abiding by them is a necessity for those who wish to live within these groups’ bounds. A Fairfax, Va., family learned this lesson after they posted a yard sign in support of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run and the board ruled that it violated HOA standards. What resulted was an epic legal battle between the Farran family and the housing authority — one that inevitably led the board to bankruptcy, splintering the community and creating division among its residents.
While there is certainly no ban on the placement of political signs at Olde Belhaven, the development at the center of the debate, the placard that was posted by Sam and Maria Farran was four inches taller than allowed by the rules and regulations. When the board approached the family in the heat of the highly-contentious election season and told them to remove the Obama sign, the Farrans decided to simply cut the placard in half, with one side reading “OBA” and the other reading “MA.”
The couple knew that their signs were too large, but they felt that the attack was, more than anything else, an assault on free speech. As the couple doubled-down with their sign-cutting prank, the board, too, geared up for a fight. After passing a rule that residents in violation of HOA policies could be fined up to $900.00, the situation intensified.
The Farrans believed that the fining action was illegal, however HOA leaders held that they were entirely within their bounds to take such action against the family. After the fine was levied and the board subsequently rejected the family’s proposed deck and roof projects, Sam and Marcia decided to take action. They sued, arguing that the fines were not legal and that the projects they proposed were rejected out of retaliation over the Obama sign debacle.
“It’s like we weren’t living in America,” Maria told the Washington Post. “You are always one board election away from a tyranny. They wield enormous power.”