Greg Phillips has never met Lilli Downes, has never given her townhouse a second thought, even though they both live in Grace Harbour, a waterside community in Havre de Grace.
But now the two have something in common, and Mr. Phillips is not happy about it. In the eyes of their homeowners association, they are outlaws.
That's because each has erected a bluebird house and a bird feeder without prior written approval from the Architectural Control Committee of Grace Harbour Homeowners Association.
Neither thought permission was needed to put up a bird feeder or house. They thought such permissions were required for major projects such as decks and pools.
The association has demanded that Ms. Downes apply for written permission to keep the birdhouse and feeder. It has not written Mr. Phillips.
Ms. Downes, a professor of psychology and sociology at Harford Community College, said it is an example of the association treating her unfairly, that she is being picked on because of a long-running feud with the association president.
Recently, she has gone on the offensive, giving the association a list of neighborhood birdhouses, feeders, basketball hoops, sheds, doghouses, children's playhouses, lawn figurines, fences and walkways that she has compiled.
She is not trying to get her neighbors, including Mr. Phillips, in trouble, she said, but merely wants to know if others have been asked to seek approval for their additions or have been threatened with legal action.
The association has not responded.
Brett Smoot, the community manager with Trenton Properties, said he is preparing a response, but, because the list is long, it will take time.
Mark R. Ayres Sr., 38, president of the homeowners association, lives across the street from Ms. Downes on Blue Bill Court, an area of 2- and 3-year-old townhouses that cost $80,000 to $100,000.
He said some people have been asked to obtain written approval for birdhouses and feeders, and that they have done so willingly, himself included. But he concedes that not everyone in the community has been asked to do so.
"It's not because of favoritism," he said, but because of a lack of time. "It's because of me, myself, or a committee not having enough time to walk around and check," he said.
Mr. Phillips doesn't know about all that.
What bothers him is that he is only now realizing that his homeowners association requires written permission for just about anything outside his home, including the birdhouse and bird feeder he put up a few weeks ago. He said his neighbors don't like the rules, either.
"I think that's totally ridiculous," said Mr. Phillips, 38, a printing press technician who moved to Grace Harbour last year with his wife, Kathy, and two children. "I would say that 100 percent of the homeowners won't put up with that."
Mr. Ayres, Mr. Smoot and the association's lawyer, David E. Carey, say Grace Harbour residents need written permission to add anything to their yards.
"Anything that you add onto your house that was not there when you bought it," said Mr. Ayres, a dispatcher for a Columbia printing press company. "Anything means anything."
That includes flowers, lawn ornaments, small trees and flags, TTC along with larger things such as sheds, decks and pools.
Like Ms. Downes, Mr. Phillips knew Grace Harbour had restrictive covenants when he moved in. He and his wife reviewed them and they seemed reasonable enough. A section on getting approval referred to decks, pools and walkways -- or so he thought.
"A deck or something like that I can see," he said. "But a bird feeder? That's pushing it."
Robert Lynch, a Bel Air attorney who represented Ms. Downes when the association sued her last year over alleged violations on her property, said the association has a legal basis to claim that anything at all needs approval, but he called it an "outer fringe" interpretation of the rules.
"It's ludicrous," he said.
Ms. Downes had been in hot water with the association, and particularly with Mr. Ayres, since last year, when the association sued her for alleged violations.
She acknowledges now that she probably was wrong to erect small sections of fence to mark her property lines. She took those down last fall.
In the fall of 1992, she erected a 6-foot-high section of privacy fence, attaching it to her house just like one five doors down from her.
Now, she has been forced to trim her 6-foot fence to 4 feet, while the similar fence five doors down remains as it was. It rankles her.
"I feel like I'm being harassed," she said. She said Mr. Ayres is watching her more closely than other neighbors.
"He's always walking around taking photographs, trying to catch me in any little thing. I want to be left alone."
Mr. Ayres denies treating Ms. Downes differently from other residents. And he says the only time he took pictures was when Mr. Carey, the association lawyer, asked him to.