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Florida Couple Gets to Keep Home's 'Starry' Paint Job; Mayor Must Publicly Apologize for $10,000 Fine

In a settlement reached Tuesday night, two residents of Mount Dora, Florida, will receive $15,000 and permission to keep their Van Gogh–inspired paint job.

Photo courtesy Pacific Legal FoundationPhoto courtesy Pacific Legal FoundationThe mayor of Mount Dora, Florida, will have to publicly apologize Wednesday afternoon for his city's overzealous code enforcement that targeted a home painted in the likeness of Vincent van Gogh's masterpiece Starry Night.

More important, the city will remove a lien against the property and drop more than $10,000 in fines it had issued to the husband and wife who own the home, according to a settlement approved unanimously by the city council Tuesday night. The Orlando Sentinel reports that the settlement also includes the payment of $15,000 to homeowners Lubomir Jastrzebski and his wife, Nancy Nemhauser.

The couple's colorful home became the subject of national media attention and legal scrutiny last year when city officials deemed the elaborately painted mural covering a wall in front of the house to be "graffiti" and ordered the couple to remove it. At first, they were told the house and wall had to match—but after Jastrzebski and Nemhauser expanded the mural to include the entire house, city officials shifted their argument and claimed the display constituted an unapproved "sign" because it attracted people to look at the house. The couple was fined $100 per day.

It was something of a sign. Jastrzebski and Nemhauser intended the wall to serve as a sort of beacon for their 25-year-old son, who suffers from autism. If he were to ever get lost, they reasoned, he could simply tell anyone in town to take him to the van Gogh house.

Since then, the Starry Night House became national news. Jastrzebski and Nemhauser refused to pay the fines and filed a lawsuit against Mount Dora, claiming that the city had violated their First Amendment rights to free expression. The Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit public interest law firm, represented them.

Attorneys from PLF seemed pleased with the outcome when it was announced Tuesday night.

(Update: Talcott tweets to clarify that "it's a good settlement" is his nice way of saying "we got absolutely everything plus a public freaking apology," so, yeah, he seems pretty pleased.)

A federal judge ordered the city to halt those $100-a-day fines earlier this year. Losing that preliminary ruling seems to have caused officials in Mount Dora, somewhat famous as a colony for artists in central Florida, to reconsider their fight against the beautifully painted house.

As part of the settlement, Mount Dora will be required to rewrite its code enforcement rules. The city council will form a seven-member advisory committee, including Nemhauser, to advise the city on new ordinances and codes.

As the settlement was nearing a final vote from the city council this week, Jastrzebski told the Sentinel he was happy with the outcome but still shocked by the whole process. "I almost felt like being in communistic Poland, where the rules were being made up by officials on the fly," he said. "I couldn't believe something like this could happen in the United States of America."

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy Pacific Legal Foundation

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  • Don't look at me.||

    No pix, didn't happen.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Ok, now a pic. Nice paint job. Glad they won.

  • Rhywun||

    I like it too.

    Mount Dora will be required to rewrite its code enforcement rules

    "Anything related purely to snobbery and other forms of subjective opinion is herewith excised."

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Mount Dora will be required to rewrite its code enforcement rules

    "Paint your house however the hell you damn well please. Anyone who doesn't like it can simply not look at it."

  • croaker||

    "Overzealous code enforcement sufficient to make this community national news shall be punished by immediate termination of the official involved, followed by fifteen lashes to the back sufficient to produce scars."

  • perlchpr||

    I approve. And after all, if anyone objects, they can simply not become a code enforcement officer.

  • Sevo||

    Yeah, wasn't there when I first looked, either.

  • Sevo||

    "At first, they were told the house and wall had to match—but after Jastrzebski and Nemhauser expanded the mural to include the entire house..."

    I LIKE it!

  • Roger the Shrubber||

    That explains all the vinyl sided retaining walls in the neighborhood.

  • ||

    I almost felt like being in communistic Poland where the rules were being made up by officials on the fly," he said. "I couldn't believe something like this could happen in the United States of America.

    It's truly amazing how ignorant the general population is in regards to the P&Z tyrants. They infect every single locality. I guess it's just like most things...you don't notice it until it effects you.

    So many libertarians fret over the expansive Federal authority. But really, its the P&Z tyrants that really reflect the evils of Government...because it's not some remote bureaucrat but rather your next door neighbor that has the power to make your life miserable for totally arbitrary reasons.

  • sarcasmic||

    P&Z?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Pan and zoom.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Pump and zip

  • Enemy of the State||

    Pimple & zit...

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Puritanical and zealous

  • ||

    You're making my point.

  • Zeb||

    Planning and zoning.

  • Brandybuck||

    There is no tyrant so terrible as the local city councilman with a bug up his ass.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Beware of old men bearing clipboards.

  • Rhywun||

    Beware of old men anyone bearing clipboards.

    FTFY

    No good can come from letting anyone with a clipboard come near you.

  • Citizen X||

    Absolute power leads to absolute corruption, yes, but it is also true that small, petty power leads to small, petty corruption.

  • SRoach||

    And yet, I'd prefer these small tyrannies, as they're easier to escape, and easier to hold accountable.
    Further, the competition of these small tyrannies will mitigate against some of the abuses, (while, admittedly, encouraging others,) allowing people to live in a given market area and choose, to some extent at least, the laws they are forced to abide by.

    It is amusing that a town that was famous as an ARTISTS COLONY would object to such a beautifully decorated home, but I guess this just goes to show that gentrification is not always a good thing. Once the Gentry move in, they bring their sameness with them.

    Hopefully, this will encourage their neighbors to redecorate their own homes: Make a district out of it.

  • VinniUSMC||

    Hopefully, this will encourage their neighbors to redecorate their own homes: Make a district out of it.

    That could be pretty awesome.

  • ||

    Absolutely yes. All the silly little rules they put in allows them to wield vast control over the citizens.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If he were to ever get lost, they reasoned, he could simply tell anyone in town to take him to the van Gogh house.

    So they expect the entire world to be their child's chauffeur? That house, like the syphilitic artwork on which it's based, is hideous. STARS DON'T LOOK LIKE THAT.

  • sarcasmic||

    Where's the TARDIS?

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Good thing they did not have to take on a HOA.

  • I'm Not Sure||

    HOAs? There's a special place in hell for those people. Of course, the temperature there must be maintained within a specified range and the pitchfork lube is restricted to the three approved brands.

  • SRoach||

    I have nothing against HOAs. HOAs, at least as I understand them, are at least voluntary organizations. Now, if an HOA were to be built such that it has power over the existing structures and their landowners, without the consent of those owners, I would be quite opposed to HOAs, but so long as they are formed voluntarily, they are inoffensive to me.
    That doesn't mean I want to live under the directives of one, but I'm okay with other people choosing to, and choosing a place where their neighbors are constricted to a consistent vision. That's choice.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Agree. One is well aware of HOA rules at the time or purchase (or should be).

  • I'm Not Sure||

    One is not, however, aware of what the rules will be five years in the future. And HOA BofDs tend to select for a particular personality type with what appears to be unlimited free time. So there's that.

  • SRoach||

    That just means someone needs to organize some libertarian HOA's.
    Although what they might say besides, "You must keep your barbecue pit and tree limbs over your own property and roadway unless you have your neighbors permission to overhang his.", I don't know.

  • Qsl||

    Having to organize constantly simply to live as you see fit is the antithesis of freedom. Beyond the "freedom isn't free" platitudes and the like, it becomes a war of attrition, where it ultimately becomes decided by a power further up, negating the whole premise of limited government.

    And specifically HOAs showcase the limitations of Libertarianism, as even though it is a mutually agreed upon contract, it still gets to be adjudicated by some force with authority, inviting government into every nook and cranny of life.

    Libertopia is essentially an HOA.

  • Iheartskeet||

    True, but the rules normally have to be changed contingent upon a BOD vote...a vote one can influence far more readily than changing the policy for an entire city, and that can be reversed more easily also.

    Add to this HOAs aren't government, and usually lack the resources for a protracted legal skirmish unless its truly something egregious.

    You'll find those same personality types in government, but with far more arbitrary power and virtually guaranteed lifetime employment.

    As least for the HOA where I live, its quite hard to find people willing to do it, and so I am generally grateful to those that do. Its a thankless, unpaid, time consuming bore of a job.

  • Fairbanks||

    And the really important rules need a homeowner vote. All the governance is spelled out in CC and by-laws. If someone doesn't want to be subject to those governance they shouldn't have bought the property.

  • Fairbanks||

    CC....

  • Fairbanks||

    CC and Rs... what's with the comments section not accepting ampersands?

  • SRoach||

    It probably looks too much like certain codes used in the management of the website.
    In-band signaling was a bad idea when Bell did it way back when and remains one today.
    https://xkcd.com/327/

  • Qsl||

    Ahh, when property rights butt up against contract rights... what to do, what to do.

    And those property rights can be curbed or annulled by vote without seemingly the same type of safeguards against the HOA except... more government.

  • Longtobefree||

    Actually, most HOA directors have access to a good corporate insurance policy with errors and omissions coverage, and if that runs out the neat thing is that they can raise the rates on the entire community, including the ones suing them, to pay their legal expenses.

  • tlapp||

    Many years ago I had to deal with one that relatively speaking was not as bad as others. Only lived there a couple year and never again. Essentially another layer of government and taxation with arrogant busy bodies making up stupid rules. My issue was of the paint color on my front door which when repainted was merely a shade different than the old but I had no approval to change it.

  • Muzzled Woodchipper||

    Man, fuck that shit.

    HOAs can eat a bag of dicks.

  • BillyG||

    I've come across good HOAs and bad HOAs. One thing that greatly helps a good HOA from going bad is having the people covered involved. Nothing like having a bunch of people who aren't going to take s*** from someone on a power trip ensuring the busy bodies don't get to make the rules. The busy bodies will give up after a few months due to not getting anywhere.

  • Longtobefree||

    Yep.
    My one excursion into HOA land would up with me running for a board position, and using the constitution of the HOA to get a bunch of the more idiotic rules and regulations removed. There are usually two groups in a community; those who want to raise a family, and those who want to raise property values. I just got word out to the first group about what the second group was up to, and got a lot more people to attend the meetings. That kept the votes a lot more reasonable.
    But way to much work, and as soon as a job change gave me an excuse to sell out, I was gone.

  • ||

    If you don't read the contract before buying the property, you only have yourself to blame for running afoul of a HOA. Unless there was some kind of malfeasance on the part of the sellers, the conditions and restrictions of the HOA are part and parcel of the sales contract. Some people like HOAs because they know exactly what they are getting into and that they are getting neighbors who think the way they do. Same thing with condominium associations.

    The only problem I have with HOAs is that most of their covenants allow for changing the terms (amending the Constitution, as it were) by simple majority vote, in some cases of the elected board. The only people who I have any sympathy for are those who have been affected by terms which are different from the original covenants. If it were up to me all changes to the original covenants of a subdivision would have to be made by the unanimous consent of all residents. But, of course, that would be to Quakerly, relying on "Friendly persuasion" rather than brute force.

  • ||

    City and County codes (as well as most local legislation), on the other hand are usually the product of a relatively small number of self-righteous busybodies who are able to sway a majority of the city council or county commission (which are small bodies to begin with) to their viewpoint.

    But then, of course, HOA and condo boards have much the same problem. Which tells me that we should be concerned about where we live and who controls where we live. HOA and condo boards are dominated by those who are most "concerned about the community" if you don't like what your HOA and condo board is doing put your name up for election. It's a lot easier than getting elected to city council or the county commission and certainly a lot easier that getting elected to the state legislature or congress.

  • Ben of Houston||

    HOA boards on an incomplete community are nearly impossible to get any power on. My first home, every homeowner got one vote. However, the developer got 10 votes per unsold lot, so he was able to enact essentially any item that he wanted.

  • perlchpr||

    Sounds like that developer needed to fall down a slippery flight of stairs some rainy night.

  • ||

    This is why, s I commented above, I believe that once the subdivision covenants are recorded It should not be possible to alter them without the consent of every resident in the subdivision.

    That said I have no problem with enforcement of any and all of the original articles in the covenant being enforced no matter how petty or picayune they might be.

    As I said above, "If you don't read the contract before buying the property, you only have yourself to blame for running afoul of a HOA."

  • kc75081||

    Around here there's a major power of the purse to be had for those so inclined in steering new housing:

    Texas' local governments have been stepping up sales of municipal bonds ... flood of debt has paid for water lines, roads, parks and other infrastructure ... The real estate district bonds are paid off by a property tax, which is covered by residents after they move in.
    ...said the risk to bondholders is mitigated by a "stringent" review of proposed districts by the local government officials that establish them. [FW star telegram]

  • Qsl||

    It is a bit more involved than that as even if you have some buildings grandfathered in with changes to the HOA, it is unclear which version then applies for a new purchaser, with the HOA claiming authority since they have no previous agreement with the new purchaser (even though the property is in violation at the time of sale, which is contradictory), and probably the new purchaser (and seller) claiming the old contract follows the building (lest either are on the hook for the cost of updates). Also, there is no compelling reason for the new purchaser to opt in to the HOA, no means to disengage from the agreement, and why is this third party involving themselves in a private transaction anyways?

    You see the same types of problems with everything from software licenses to secession.

    You have the argument that HOAs are there to protect property values or community standards, but are under no obligation that those by-laws follow exclusively from that. For most contracts there is the idea of mutual reciprocation, and is unclear in many instances what benefit is being derived from HOAs.

    You could also argue the supremacy of contract. Either way, it is less than clear cut.

  • Brandybuck||

    Now that I see that house, I love it. I love those kinds of houses and hate the tiny minds that want to ban them. Thank god for unincorporated county land where houses like these still exist! It's True Americana. Used to be just urban libruhls banning this stuff, now it's Florida Man wanting to fine the eccentrics off their lawn. Sigh.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    "I almost felt like being in communistic Poland where the rules were being made up by officials on the fly," he said. "I couldn't believe something like this could happen in the United States of America."

    That's because "land of the free" doesn't mean what you think it means. It means you're free to ask permission and OBEY your "betters."

  • Citizen X||

    The Orlando Sentinel reports that the settlement also includes the payment of $15,000 to homeowners Lubomir Jastrzebski and his wife, Nancy Nemhauser.

    Can the $15k come from the bank accounts of individual zoning, police, and city council members instead of innocent taxpayers this time?

  • ||

    Accountability is so quaint.

  • croaker||

    Nick Girone is lucky all he had to do was apologize. I would have held out for tying his ass to a flagpole in front of city hall for 30 lashes across his bare back. Seems to me the only way to get some people's attention is to inflict pain.

  • Roger the Shrubber||

    'The city council will form a seven-member advisory committee, including Nemhauser, to advise the city on new ordinances and codes., to advise the city on new ordinances and codes.'

    I suggest this for Nemhauser. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5c-uFUbpH9w

  • Frank Thorn||

    Nick Girone, mayor of Mount Dora, Florida,

    https://ci.mount-dora.fl.us/Directory.aspx?EID=76

  • Roger the Shrubber||

    $100 per day to wet his beak.

  • ||

    If you read his bio at that link, you will find that Nick Girone is from New Jersey, thus proving my point that in all his incarnations, "Florida Man" does not actually exist. The being that people refer to as, "Florida Man" is actually "[insert your northeastern or rustbelt state of choice] native who has moved to Florida for retirement or because job prospects in his home state suck"man.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    The sad reality is that more people than not are NIMBYs who support the council and similar restriction. Right up until they have to figure it for something they want to do.

  • mamabug||

    At first, I misread that last line as being "I almost felt like being in communistic Portland"

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    It's like Russia, but with more homeless people.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    As part of the settlement, Mount Dora will be required to rewrite its code enforcement rules. The city council will form a seven-member advisory committee, including Nemhauser, to advise the city on new ordinances and codes.

    This is interesting. What that means is the family was in fact in violation of the codes. If this were an 'overzealous' code enforcement, they'd simply tell the code enforcers to chill the fuck out. Once again, it's not so easy as that. We need to start repealing unjust laws and codes. I'm surprised (and pleased) that they're going to re-write the codes. If I were Nemhauser, I'd be a real free-speech stick in the mud during those meetings.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    That is one ugly fucking house but I'm glad the homeowners prevailed over city council on this one. If the city or neighbours don't like it, they should buy the house.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Lousy neighbors have rights, too.

  • croaker||

    They have the right to look away. Snitches get stitches.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    The lousy neighbors are the ones with garish, childish, neighborhood-afflictling properties. I would not expect disaffected, unreasonable, anti-social right-wing goobers to understand.

    Perhaps some day a neighbor will see smoke emanating from that house and decide to be just as neighborly as Lubomir and Nancy have been. The freedom to refrain from calling the fire department and to watch an eyesore owned by jerks burn to the ground is just as important as the right to maintain an aggressively unsightly property.

    Accountability is the libertarian way.

  • BillyG||

    Calling for someone to Arson their house because you don't like the paint job?

    Such a pitiful lonely cranky old man you are. Carry on, Tyrant.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    In an unexpected twist, the Mt. Dora city officials were vindicated when it was realized that the couple owning the house were previously unsuspected art thieves who had painted the house so they could hang the stolen original Starry Night in plain site where they could freely enjoy their ill gotten gains.

    The couple pleaded no contest to the new charges, asking only that they be allowed to paint their cells in a mural involving cigarettes.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    "I almost felt like being in communistic Poland where the rules were being made up by officials on the fly," he said. "I couldn't believe something like this could happen in the United States of America."

    Oh my sweet summer child. Every government on earth can be boiled down to nothing more than a group of people boorishly and clumsily wielding power and authority. Anyone with a different perspective on government is naive at best and covetous of power at worst.

  • operagost||

    Is this the Onion? I can't believe these people won.

    That being said, Van Gogh's head is creepy and the only part of their house I don't like.

  • perlchpr||

    Is this the Onion? I can't believe these people won.

    I am similarly shocked.

  • Tell It Right||

    This must be satire. Anyone who has been in Florida knows people there get away with painting their houses weird colors. :)

  • croaker||

    Nick Girone should have been strung up and given 30 lashes across the back, then stripped of office.

    Or how about two years at FCI PoundMeInTheAss so he can't even vote or own a gun ever again?

  • perlchpr||

    Does the mayor have to wear a clown suit and do a full prostration grovelling on his knees, forehead to the ground?

    Because otherwise, it's really not enough.

  • Iheartskeet||

    I wouldn't want to live next to them, but glad they won.

    Florida Man strikes again...in a good way.

  • Benitacanova||

    "I almost felt like being in communistic Poland..."

    I misread that as Portland. I'd nearly forgotten there was communism in Poland too.

  • I'm Not Sure||

    Portland works just as well.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Ha!

  • hive of scum||

    This was reported as far away as New Zealand. Go Florida!

  • Kefka||

    Cool looking house, always liked Starry Night.

  • Longtobefree||

    to advise the city on new ordinances and codes.

    The advice: No new ordinances or codes, repeal the ones that exist.

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