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East Lake resident's porch decoration leads to lawsuit

Lorraine Jacovides and her dog, Ashley, live in East Lake Woodlands, where this artwork violates neighborhood rules.
Lorraine Jacovides and her dog, Ashley, live in East Lake Woodlands, where this artwork violates neighborhood rules.
Published Sep. 17, 2015

EAST LAKE — On a quiet street in East Lake Woodlands, the homes are nearly identical, with carports in front of neat lawns.

But one homeowner's decorative taste is creating a stir. Lorraine Jacovides, 55, has a piece of ironwork hanging outside her front door.

The neighborhood doesn't allow its residents to hang anything outside their homes without approval from the homeowners association.

So, she's being sued by the association, East Lake Woodlands Cluster Homes Improvement Association, Unit Four.

The association says the artwork is against its rules and has to be removed. Jacovides says she and her partner, Lynn Keriazakos, are being targeted unfairly.

According to association president Rick Cantrell, allowing people to break the rules creates a slippery slope, with everyone in the neighborhood decorating however they please.

"You can't just put up on the walls what you want," he said. "She just refuses to take it down."

According to the complaint filed with the court, Jacovides didn't respond to a request for prelawsuit mediation. The association is requesting that she take down the decoration and pay its lawyer fees.

But Jacovides said she plans to fight the lawsuit because the decoration has an emotional meaning — it was a gift from her deceased father, and she hung it three years ago.

"It's a little metal shield," she said. "It's nothing tacky or outrageous or crazy."

Jacovides said the issue is a too-strict homeowners association. She said she has seen neighbors hang similar decorations without a problem.

"They're always picking on people," she said. "They goad you until you want to leave."

Jacovides said she thinks she and her partner are being unfairly singled out. Keriazakos has served on the homeowners association board in the past.

"Why are they doing this to me? I don't know why," she said. "We take care of our property. What's the deal?"

Evan McKenzie, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has studied homeowners associations for more than 30 years.

He said it isn't uncommon to see conflicts between homeowners associations and residents, even over seemingly mundane things.

If you move into a neighborhood with a homeowners association, he said, you often automatically agree to its rules.

"You're consenting, in essence, to be governed by your neighbors," he said.

And typically, the associations have an advantage.

"The association has the money to hire an attorney," he said, and it isn't always the same for homeowners. "Civil litigation in this country gets expensive in a real hurry."

Cantrell, the association's president, said he doesn't understand why Jacovides hasn't taken down the decoration.

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"The only thing I can think of is that she has an emotional attachment to it," he said. "Bring it inside your house. Sleep with it under your bed."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Ayana Stewart at astewart@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4153. Follow @AyanaStewart.