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Candidate clashes with deed enforcers ... again

VALRICO — Lewis Laricchia has more than one fight on his hands. He's running for state representative in District 56, but for several months has also battled his homeowners association over the right to display campaign signs on his car.

The Brentwood Hills Homeowners Association notified Laricchia in March that the campaign sign on his car, when it was parked in his driveway, violated the community's rules. Deed restrictions prohibit "signs of any kind" on a person's property, apart from small professional signs.

In August, the association sought an injunction against Laricchia, 59, contending that the sign on his vehicle at 1605 Powder Ridge Drive harmed the association irreparably and asking for permission to remove it.

The dispute marks the latest in a string of clashes between Laricchia and the association. In 2005, he bombarded board members with e-mails, citing code violations including unlocked trash bins and narrow handicapped parking spaces. He also said the association was conducting elections without a quorum.

Brentwood Hills responded in 2006 with a lawsuit, saying Laricchia's nitpicking amounted to harassment. Laricchia fired back with a lawsuit threatening to force the association's business into receivership.

Asked if he thought the association was retaliating against him for past conflicts, Laricchia replied, "Of course."

Laricchia said he spotted and photographed at least 40 signs on other lawns that also violate the restrictions, but isn't aware of anyone else being cited.

Brentwood Hills property manager Rick Pitrowski did not return two phone calls seeking comment.

The "irreparable harm" that Brentwood Hills said Laricchia's sign caused is a legal way of saying Laricchia violated deed restrictions, said Astrid Guardado, the association's attorney.

"When an owner is in violation of an association's governing documents, irreparable harm is presumed," she said.

By signing off on deed restrictions in order to live in a deed-restricted community, residents sometimes forfeit the right to unfettered free speech, said Pete Dunbar, a lawyer and author of a book about homeowners association laws.

"My understanding is that free speech would not be an issue in that context," he said.

Laricchia and Brentwood Hills representatives met with mediators but could not reach an agreement.

Laricchia since got rid of the car, leaving both sides in an uneasy truce.

He has another car now, and said he intends to apply magnetic signs to its side.

All of which prompts a question: Why?

Laricchia was tight-lipped in an interview. But a clue to his motives might lie in a video on his campaign's Web site, which shows the candidate standing in his yard beside another sign he has since removed.

That sign read, "Fire board of directors headquarters."

"Sometimes," Laricchia declares in the video, "you must do a violation of a deed restriction to get a point across."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (813) 661-2431 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

Candidate clashes with deed enforcers ... again 10/09/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 9, 2008 4:30am]
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