Lint, litigation threats mark condo war

Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times

Published March 30, 2005

SEMINOLE - In the annals of disputes between condominium owners and board members, the ongoing battle at Otter Key must rank as a classic.

It began before Ian Murphy moved in. Since then, it has escalated to the Internet. The latest installment centers on access to the electric panel to Murphy's condo.

That lack of access, he says, caused about $10,000 in computer equipment to fry in a recent power surge. Had he had access to the panel, Murphy said, he could have prevented the loss.

As for the board members, their attorney says they are terrified of Murphy and what he might do.

"They're afraid of him," Tampa lawyer Steve Mezer said. "They take him seriously, but at the same time, he has all the rights and privileges of anyone else in the condominium."

The problem, Mezer said, is that the board wants to enforce the rules, but Murphy keeps escalating the war.

"He's goading you. He's perpetually threatening you," Mezer said.

The threats consist of "I'm going to sue you" or "I'm going to report you" and are combined with a "sailor's mouth," the attorney said.

Murphy's take on the problem is that he is the only one to ever challenge "their little fiefdom." It's the board that does the terrorizing, he said.

"I am a nice, normal, lovable human being, according to a lot of people, until you p--- me off," Murphy said. "I'm not insane. I come with a brain, a dangerous brain."

There is no doubt that Murphy is smart. He is in the Learning Channel's Hackers Hall of Fame for being the first person ever arrested for a computer crime. That was in 1981.

Murphy, who called himself Captain Zap, was one of four people who hacked into AT&T's computers to change the clocks so customers were charged wrongly. Those who made calls early in the day were billed as if they had called late at night. Those who called late at night were charged as if they had made calls early in the day.

Murphy served 21/2 years' probation and 1,000 hours of community service. He now has a consulting company, IAM Secure Data Systems, that helps companies protect themselves against hackers like him.

Murphy bought his Otter Key condo in October 2003 from a friend. Before he could move in, Murphy had to meet with the board for approval, he said. Mezer said the meeting was only to make sure Murphy understood condo law and rights.

Either way, Murphy said he took a friend, who did all the talking. Murphy, who resented having to be at the meeting, said he remained mum the entire time.

Then came moving day. Murphy parked the truck at the building entrance. He was told to move it because it was in a fire lane. That began the slide into open warfare.

Soon came the "world famous lint letter." The board wrote him to complain that too much lint was coming out of the exhaust from his dryer. The exhausts open onto the hallways at Otter Key.

Murphy said he fired back a letter demanding that the board prove the lint was his. He demanded it be DNA tested and a gas chromatograph be done. Gas chromatography separates samples of volatile substances into their chemical components.

Then he started a Web site, using the condo's name. It lays out Murphy's complaints about the homeowners association and the management company.

"Did any of you ever come to my door and say hello?" he asks on the site. "Did any of you ever greet me as a new person in the community? No, you offered up Nazi rules and regulations to your stupid authority and well, now you get it back in spades and in hellish fire that has gone across the world. . . .

"Grow up, get a life, stay the hell out of mine, don't talk to me, don't bother me, don't foist your views upon me and I will honor the same rules. If not, the rules of engagement are changed.

"So in a nutshell, you leave me alone, I will leave you alone. If not, legal nuclear war breaks out and the end of Mr. Nice Guy stops, too!"

Murphy urges the Otter Key owners to hire a new management company. And he tells people, "Don't buy a condo here."

The latest battle concerns Murphy's access to his breaker box. Each floor's breaker box is in a locked room near the elevator shaft.

Mezer, the attorney, said the board will unlock the door and pay to have an electrician stand by while Murphy fiddles with his own box. But it would be inappropriateto give Murphy unfettered access to all electric meters, he said.

That does not please Murphy, who wants access 24 hours a day so he can see if the surge suppressors are working properly. A recent surge destroyed almost $10,000 worth of computer equipment, he said.

So why did Murphy, who obviously does not like authority, move to Otter Key? And why does he stay there?

The view from his condo, which is on the waterfront where 54th Avenue N dead-ends into Park Street. And Otter Key is surrounded by conservation land, so no development will encroach on the building. Add to that its central location, million-dollar clubhouse, heated pool and free central hot water.