Steven Paul, 28, is a Tampa Bay Lightning season ticket holder who's justifiably excited with his team in the Eastern Conference finals, eight wins away from the Stanley Cup.
Like many other Bolts supporters, he flaunted that enthusiasm within his community. That is, until his Home Owner's Association crushed his freedom of expression like an over-reactive parent.
But Steven Paul is a hockey fan, which means he's both incredibly cynical and incredibly stubborn about his passions. So he got a little creative in his battle with the draconian rules of his neighborhood HOA — and appears to have won.
Back in April, before the Lightning defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Paul decided he wanted to make his neighbors aware of his fervor for the team.
When the Lightning clinched a playoff spot, they gave fans a playoff preparation package that included a T-shirt, stickers and a sign made for display on one's front yard, like a political placard.
Paul placed his white "GO BOLTS" sign on his lawn on a Saturday.
On Wednesday of the following week, he received this from his HOA:
"Whoever it is that has too much time on their hands took a picture on Monday, turned it in and then I got the letter that said, 'No signs allowed except for security signs,'" said Paul, who shared the story and the letter with the Reddit hockey community, where he's an active member.
His HOA limits lawn signs to ones that provide free advertising for alert others that the house is protected by some kind of alarm system or security service.
"I was pissed. I was infuriated," recalled Paul, "and then I was like, 'OK, fine. If we can only have security signs, then I'll make it a security sign."
Which he did:
A few days later, his wife was at home when something caught her eye outside the house. It was a woman with a camera, taking a photo of the new sign, ostensibly for more HOA tattling.
Meanwhile, Paul was getting proactive with the HOA after their cease and desist letter, writing a letter of his own.
"I asked them if they had any community support. Tampa made the playoffs for the first time in years. Obviously, it's not a permanent sign in my yard, it's just a way to support the team," he said. "Don't they have anything better to do with my HOA fees?"
After transforming his sign into "GO BOLTS SECURITY," he hasn't gotten a second notice — yet. The HOA told Paul they'll discuss the matter further at an upcoming meeting.
Then Paul decided to get really proactive. Inside the bag of Lightning swag was a large blue Tampa Bay flag. He checked the HOA bylaws about hanging flags on houses, and found no restrictions.
So up it went on his garage:
"Honestly, I think the flag looks worse than the lawn sign," he said, "but I'm gonna hang it up there until we're done."
An engineer for the NOAA Hurricane Hunters (Ed. Note: Awesome), Paul is waiting to see if there's any further pushback from the HOA, while wondering if his sport of choice is part of the victimization.
"If this was the Rays or if this was the Bucs, would this even be an issue?" he asked.
Whether or not he'll need to get creative again, the good news for Paul and thousands of other Lightning fans is that there's at least another round of playoff hockey in which to express their enthusiasm — no matter if "the man" says otherwise.
Stick-tap to reader Phil Scott for the tip.
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