Keith Strong wasn't about to give up in his battle over a mailbox feud with his neighborhood's homeowners association. It was a battle that took seven years to resolve in court, but he has no regrets. He believes he took a stand for property rights.
Strong purchased a $35 wooden mailbox in 2009 for his home, which is in a golf community in the Washington suburbs that features million-dollar homes. But two months after Strong installed the mailbox, his HOA ordered him to upgrade to a $500 one.
After fielding concerns over cedar model mailboxes falling into disrepair and becoming eyesores, the HOA voted for a uniform, more lasting option. They voted in August 2009 to require all of its residents to buy metal mailboxes that were monogrammed with the letter "W" (for Woodmore golf community) and that was mounted on a decorative post. They gave residents until January 2013 to comply, or residents would face a fine of $100 a month.
Strong refused to upgrade. But it took seven years for his feud to get resolved with the HOA in court. A Prince George's County judge ruled that the Pleasant Prospect Home Owners' Association had overstepped its bounds in mandating the mailbox.
“They [the HOA] have mandated a specific change to the property that the homeowner must purchase,” the judge’s order read. “The homeowner is not saying ‘I want to make a change’ but the board is telling the homeowner ‘You must make a change.’ As the higher courts have instructed us, we must lean in favor of freedom in the property.”
While Strong won the court battle, he did have to pay $33,000 in legal fees, or essentially the price of 66 new bronze-colored mailboxes, as The Washington Post pointed out.
"It wasn't just about a mailbox," Strong, a solar physicist with NASA, told The Washington Post. "The issue really here is property rights. If they were granted this power, where does this stop? It also opens up the whole community to other possible abuses of that power."
The association argued they were just trying to maintain the appearance of the community.
“The association was trying to maintain uniform and harmonious standards in the community,” says Justin Cameron, the attorney representing the homeowners association. “There were alternative mailboxes that the board would approve that were not $500.”
As for Strong, he says he plans to install a new wooden mailbox similar to the one seven years ago to celebrate his court victory.
Source: "In a Community of Million-Dollar Homes, a Fight Over a $500 Mailbox Ends in Court," The Washington Post (Jan. 23, 2017)