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Air Force veteran says he was forced to sell his home after refusing to remove his American flag

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Air Force veteran Larry Murphree claims his battle with his homeowners association cost him his home and several hundred thousands of dollars. (Image source: Video screenshot)

A Florida man has spent the last seven years in a battle with his retirement community's homeowners association — all over a 17-inch American flag — which he claims cost him his home and several hundred thousands of dollars, WTLV-TV reported.

The problem wasn't so much the flag, but where Larry Murphree, an Air Force veteran, chose to display it.

"One day I was thinking about the country, and everything, and I put a small American flag on my front porch in a flower pot," Murphree told WTLV. "It's a small flag, but it stands for a big thank you for what they do."

Residents are allowed to fly flags on poles, according to the Sweetwater community's bylaws. Sweetwater is a retirement community in Jacksonville.

What's the story?

The Tides Condominium Association sent Murphree a letter that informed him of the violation and asked him to take his flag down, according to WTLV.

He refused.

"They started fining me up to $1,000 because I wouldn't take the flag down," Murphree told the news station.

Then he hired an attorney and filed a lawsuit in federal court.

"We believe we have the right to display the American flag," Murphree's lawyer Gust Sarris said.

Sarris argued that the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act prohibits HOAs and condo associations from preventing its residents from displaying the American flag.

However, it does allow for reasonable restrictions.

The HOA and Murphree reached an agreement in April 2012 that allowed him to keep his flag in the flower pot.

But the agreement was short lived.

What happened next?

A few months later, the HOA changed the flag ordinance to a flower pot ordinance, and it  started fining Murphree — again — at the rate of $100 for each day he left the flag in the pot, WTLV reported.

"Somehow, they re-categorized it and started doing the same thing again," Sarris said.

Again, Murphree refused to pay the fines and another legal battle began.

This time, when the fees started piling up the HOA began applying his dues toward the penalties without his knowledge, he told WTLV.

Once he fell far enough behind on his dues, the HOA filed a lien on his property.

"They just started nitpicking every little thing that I did," Murphree said.

The HOA issued violations for not parking straight in his driveway and leaving a Christmas decoration up after Christmas were among the infractions.

Finally, Murphree said he was forced to sell his condo at a loss to avoid foreclosure and move in with his girlfriend in St. Augustine.

“Should any man who served in the military lose his home, a retirement home, because they want to be patriotic? Anybody can see that the HOA has gone overboard," Sarris told The Washington Post.

Three years later, the fight has continued.

"Somebody had to stand to stand up and say, 'this is not right,'" Murphree said.

What did the HOA say?

The HOA did not return requests for comment from WTLV or The Post.

What else?

Murphree's federal lawsuit against the HOA is expected to go to trial next year. He is seeking $1 million in damages.

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