SEFFNER — Maurice Graham keeps a neat lawn. His grass is trimmed, his shrubs are pruned, his American flag flaps in the breeze.
He cares for his pontoon boat, which sits in the back yard of his Seffner home, and his fence is a dark color — not bleached by the sun, like the neighbors'.
But that's the problem. The boat and the fence violate the homeowners association's rules, according to a lawsuit the association filed last spring.
Residents in the Lake Shore Ranch subdivision off Wheeler Road can't stain or paint their fences or have boats visible from the street, according to the neighborhood's guidelines.
So even though Graham excels at rule No. 17, keeping his lot "in a first class neat, attractive, sanitary and substantial condition," the association contends that he violated No. 13c by staining his fence and No. 19 by keeping his boat in view.
He said he only used water sealant on his fence. When approached by the HOA about the fence, Graham refused to change anything, and he turned down mediation. "Our position is that Mr. Graham has not violated his agreement," his attorney wrote the association in January.
So the HOA took Graham to court, filing for less than $15,000 in damages.
Graham upped the ante.
He filed a countersuit last spring, contending that the HOA is discriminating against him and his wife. He is a disabled veteran, and his wife is originally from Panama, he wrote.
In his lawsuit, Graham also said the enforcement was arbitrary. Other people have violated the rules and not been cited, he said.
Association attorney Bob Tankel said the HOA has demanded that 18 homeowners make changes because they are violating the guidelines.
Graham has filed for more than $15,000 in damages and said he can afford a long, drawn-out fight.
"We're not hurting for money," he said in a phone interview.
Graham also brought up another contention. He said he's being racially discriminated against because he is black. He offered no concrete evidence but said that his white neighbors who are violating rules haven't been cited.
Graham's attorney, Miriam L. Sumpter Richard, did not return several calls seeking comment.
Tankel called the racial discrimination allegation insulting and demeaning.
"It's shocking to me that these people are playing the race card," he said.
Graham said he and his son work hard on their yard, trimming, pruning and mowing regularly. He said the purpose of HOA rules is to keep property values up and that he has done his part.
"Isn't that what you're supposed to do to your home?"
But Tankel said that argument is like comparing apples and oranges. No matter how nice the Grahams' yard is, they've still violated two rules, Tankel said.
"I don't think the suit has anything to do with the fact that they may win yard of the month," he said.
A trial date has not been set, but Graham said he plans to take it all the way.
"We'll continue to move forward," he said. "It's just in the beginning stages, and it may be long. You just have to be one of the ones who can stand up to the foolishness."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.