PhotoA Missouri family, whose homeowners' association board threatened them with fines and even jailtime over their daughters' backyard swingset, won a legal victory last Friday after a judge ruled that the playset can stay.

Or, if you prefer: on Friday, a judge dealt a devastating legal blow to an embattled Missouri homeowners' association board that was only trying to protect itself from the dire threat posed by a children's backyard swingset.

Legal battle

Jack and Marla Stout live in the Raintree Lake subdivision, located in the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit, Missouri. Two years ago they installed a backyard playset for their two young daughters. The girls wanted to paint the playset pink, but they settled for purple. Marla Stout told KMBC-TV on Aug. 10 that she bought and applied a purple-tinted wood stain at Home Depot.

That was two years ago. Then, last year, the Raintree Lake Neighborhood Homeowner's Association sent the Stouts a notice threatening them with a fine. The Stouts fought the fine and won, but as KMBC noted, the HOA board wouldn't let the matter drop: “The family received more letters outlining more serious consequences. '(The letters said) that if we didn’t remove the swing set from the subdivision in a couple of weeks, we go to jail,' [Marla] Stout said.”

The Stouts' neighbors, including those who could actually see the swingset from their own properties, signed a petition telling the HOA board that they had no problems with the playset or its color, yet the HOA wasn't satisfied.

Dillen Steeby, the Stout's next-door neighbor, said “I think it’s ridiculous …. I’m really perturbed that [the HOA] would waste money pursuing something like this. Money on court costs and lawyer’s fees to attack really good people like this and go after a swing set.”

Swingset stays

The HOA's guidelines do not specify exactly which colors are or aren't allowed on backyard playsets, but say only that they must be “subdued and within harmony with other colors of the community.” Rather than repaint or take down the swing set, the Stouts chose to hire an attorney. Marla Stout told another local TV station, Fox 4, that many trees in the neighborhood turn purple every autumn, so she felt that her daughters' playset was in harmony with the local natural colors.

She also mentioned another letter the HOA sent to the Stouts, saying that their lawsuit against the HOA would cost the family “greater than any principle you are trying to prove.”

The Stouts went to court on Aug. 21 and the judge granted a ruling a week later: the purple playset can stay. Yesterday, the Stouts and their neighbors (the actual “homeowners” whose interests are theoretically represented by the homeowners' association) held a barbecue to celebrate the judge's ruling against the HOA. Representatives of the actual HOA board, however, have not commented on the ruling.