Manassas Journal Messenger | Homeowner stages act of protest

A Richmond builder defaced her Cranberry Court house Tuesday night to protest actions she says were taken against her by the Montclair Property Owner’s Association, which is led by the woman who lives across the street.

In what some neighborhood residents lauded as a positive, gutsy move, 49-year-old accountant Judy Langford put 100 plastic pink flamingos on her lawn, brushed over the garage with gray and red paints and spray painted the front of the home with a cartoon face, and initials.

She taped a huge sign to the right-hand garage door that said: “Is the yard o.k. now.” There were no trespassing signs on the lawn and a sign posted that said: “In protest of MPOA.”

Forty-five of the flamingos were stolen overnight between Tueday and Wednesday, she said.

Langford always knew about her responsibilities related to compliance with the covenants for Montclair, said MPOA President Janet Gorn, a senior foreign affairs officer for the Department of State.

Langford, who says she doesn’t normally develop property, vandalized her house because the MPOA will not grant her the paperwork needed to go to closing on the house.

She will keep defacing the home until the association allows her to close, she said in front of the home Wednesday.

Gorn would not comment about anything Langford said.

If Langford makes good on her threat to continue defacing the house, “Montclair will respond accordingly to our guidance and documents,” Gorn said.

The house was purchased within an hour of hitting the market and was scheduled to close on April 30, Langford said.

Meanwhile, the buyers are stuck. The MPOA contends that is Langford’s fault.

Neither the new buyers nor their real estate agent could be reached Wednesday.

“It is Mrs. Langford who is holding up the closing by not adhering to the rules,” Gorn said. “If she had taken care of those and gone through the processes like she needed to, then she could go to closing.”

Two weeks ago, the MPOA was making four reasonable demands, Langford said. But two days ago, she got a letter dated May 1 listing the original four and five new demands.

Two of them — putting a railing along a concrete walkway at the front of the house and planting 12 new trees — are so egregious, she will simply not comply.

The MPOA is demanding six 2 1/2 caliber deciduous trees and six, 8-foot evergreens. A deciduous tree of that size is 2 1/2 inches through the center of the trunk from one end to the other.

“It’s an absurd request,” Langford said of the trees.

Gorn refused to comment on the contents of the May 1 letter, stating that she was not familiar with the contents offhand.

The letter tells Langford to put one of the trees at the corner of Cranberry Court and Northgate Drive. Langford said she already planted seven Leyland Cyprus trees in the back. But they aren’t good enough for the association’s board, she said.

Gorn said that Langford had 12 months to submit plans for any changes to the original design of the house but she didn’t do it.

Langford counters that she submitted all the necessary paperwork six months ago and hasn’t heard a thing since.

“If she changes the design of the house and wishes to do that, she has to come back to the architectural committee to request changes to the design of the house,” Gorn said.

If she wants to change any of the materials, she must obtain permission. For example, the MPOA demands that wood be used as lattice. Langford’s lattice is not wood.

“The design of the house required some softening of the property,” Gorn said. “This goes back to the design plan of the house, which includes landscaping.”

Langford contends that the MPOA is battling her for two reasons: They had problems with her son, Lee Langford, who owned the property before her; and they want to pick on her because she is single.

Her 33-year-old son built the home. He said the architectural plans he submitted were denied a number of times by the MPOA. His plans were only approved when his lawyer sent a letter saying the association could not deny plans without grounds, he said.

Those plans were not denied for arbitrary reasons, Gorn said.

After Langford bought the property from her son, the MPOA refused to approve the plans she submitted, which were the same as those submitted by her son, she said.

Gorn said the purpose of the property owner’s association is to protect the homeowner’s interests and keep property values high.

The association has the power to tell residents when to paint their house, what colors are acceptable, when to fix the shutters and how to do it. They can direct parking rules, garden size and where a person can plant bushes and shrubs. If a resident wants to plant flowers or dig a walkway, the MPOA must approve it. A committee must go out and physically review the property. They then make a decision based on the developments covenants.

Homeowner’s associations in Virginia have this power because state government grants them certain regulatory and enforcement authority within their communities.

And it’s a good thing, according to Gorn, who says guidelines are strictly adhered to by the MPOA. They don’t just do this “ad hoc,” she said.

But according to some residents, the MPOA’s actions represent an overbearing, intrusive nature.

Throngs of people poured out to look at the house Tuesday night. Langford was congratulated by many of them. One neighbor even made her lunch Wednesday.

People drove by honking and waving in support; many told Langford they were happy she is standing up to the MPOA.

“You did this yourself?” Brian Morrison, 17, asked Langford on Wednesday afternoon.

When she replied “yes,” he clapped for her. His parents had to get permission to cut down the bushes in the yard — something he said is absurd.

“I have lived in Montclair and I know what it’s like,” said Tina Palmer, 38.

Palmer’s friend Ellen Caldwell, 46, said the MPOA can’t expect the lawn to be landscaped so quickly.

“Landscaping takes time,” Caldwell said. “If you don’t have the right to sit down and look at your property, you’re in big trouble.”

But others sided with the property owner’s association.

“I think they ought to blow the place up,” said 63-year-old Tony Malanka. He stopped to ask Langford about her house as he drove home Wednesday. “I lived here 26 years and this is the first time I’ve seen crap like this. You should have no recourse except through the courts.”

“I find this an immature way of dealing with this,” said Jennifer Ross. “We all have to abide by the rules. Rules are there for a reason: To keep . . . everything in check.”

Langford’s actions set a bad example for community children, Ross said.

“You don’t deface property,” Ross said. “This is something I would expect a 13-year-old to do.”

Staff writer Daniel Drew can be reached at (703) 878-8065.

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