^^here is the whole article for anyone who is interested. I just pasted and bolded the main points.
The feud that consumed Fairfax County’s Olde Belhaven would span four years and cost the community as much as $400,000, and it was ignited by one of the smallest of sparks: an Obama for President sign.
The modest placard Sam and Maria Farran planted in their yard during the 2008 election put them on a collision course with the neighborhood homeowners association. It was four inches taller than the association’s covenants allowed.
“Need I say more! This would lead to chaos,” a neighbor fretted in an e-mail about the precedent that would be set if the sign wasn’t removed. “Our property values would be put at risk.”
Sam and Maria Farran, a wine broker and a government lawyer, moved to the 44-unit townhouse community in the Alexandria section of Fairfax in 1999. In many ways, it is a typical Northern Virginia neighborhood, with tidy houses and a mix of government employees, service members and professionals.
The townhouses line the three-quarter-acre square, which is the neighborhood’s central feature and the site of most community-wide events. Without the green plot, it might be difficult to call Belhaven a community.
The Farrans said the HOA had a reputation for hard-line stances. In one case, board member Don Hughes compared some residents’ refusal to install window-pane dividers to the “cat and mouse game Saddam Hussein played with the USA,” e-mails show. Ultimately, Hussein “paid the price,” he said, concluding that the residents should comply.
Nevertheless, the Farrans were surprised when letters arrived in October 2008 telling them and others that their political placards were too large.
“This is our final request,” Hughes wrote on behalf of the board.
E-mails show that Hughes pushed the board to act. He wrote that he was prepared to make a motion to put a lien on the Farrans’ house if they didn’t comply. He called sending a letter a “teaching moment.” Hughes declined to comment.
The Farrans were angry. They acknowledged that the sign broke the rules but said it seemed like an assault on free speech to go after a minor violation during the height of an election. Their response: cutting the placard in half. They planted “OBA” and “MA” signs in their front yard.
The prank did not amuse board members. And they decided to act.
They passed a resolution allowing the board to fine residents up to $900 per infraction for violating HOA guidelines. Across the country, fining authority has been controversial, with HOAs hitting residents with levies for such transgressions as displays of colored Christmas lights and patches of dead grass.
The legal fight consumed Olde Belhaven.
The Farrans said HOA backers told them to move. They found bullets in their yard. Someone implored a priest at their church to prevail on the Farrans to stop the lawsuit. A local real estate agent said the infighting was scaring off some home buyers.
“It was a crusade,” a supporter of the Farrans said.
On the other side, board members said that the Farrans were unreasonable and that they declined numerous offers to begin settlement discussions. And as the case ground on, the HOA increased dues from $650 a year to about $3,500, mostly to cover legal fees.
The board’s former president, Jim LeBlanc, said the situation put a strain on some elderly residents living on fixed incomes. “Some had their health impacted,” LeBlanc said. “There’s a sense of, what is it going to take to resolve this? This was a tragic nightmare.”
The HOA was on the hook for about $100,000 to cover the Farrans’ legal fees, and it owed hundreds of thousands more for its own legal expenses. The HOA was financially ruined.
LeBlanc said the association didn’t have the money to cover the bills, so residents voted for bankruptcy.
“There really, truly was a sense of community here,” LeBlanc said. “That was truly lost in this process.”