One of the time-honored ways to express American patriotism is to fly Old Glory. Throughout the country, there are many homeowners who choose to display the American flag during patriotic holidays, including Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Others make the decision to enact flag displays year-round. And of course, some decide to skip flag flying, choosing instead to demonstrate patriotism and service in other ways. All of these are perfectly reasonable ways to display gratitude for our great nation.
The question is, how would you feel if your homeowners association told you that you were disallowed to have a flag display on your home? For many homeowners, this would be cause for great frustration, even anger. Simply put, nobody wants to have their patriotic demonstrations policed in this way.
Members of the HOA Board must tread cautiously when it comes to any rules they make regarding the flag display. And, they must ensure that any HOA flag restrictions are compliant with state laws as well as federal law.
So what should your HOA rules say about the United States flag? Let’s take a closer look at general policies you might consider within your homeowners association.
Enforcing HOA Flag Rules
First things first: Homeowners associations have every right to develop, enact, and enforce their own rules. Generally speaking, these rules are designed to help homeowners preserve property values, and to build a sense of community within the HOA.
However, HOA rules must always be subordinate to federal and state laws. Of particular note is the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005. Basically, the American Flag Act prohibits HOAs from making any rules that bar people from displaying the American flag on private property. This law is specifically targeted at homeowners associations and real estate management organizations. Such groups may NOT enact rules that keep homeowners from flying the American flag.
With that said, the American Flag Act also has a couple of important provisions. Members of the HOA Board will want to make note of these:
- The American flag should be displayed properly. (In other words, to display the American flag, homeowners should be aware of our nation’s Flag Code.)
- HOAs can place reasonable restrictions on if, when, and where flags are displayed in order to preserve property values.
Now, let’s take a closer look at these important provisions and what they say about the freedom to display the flag.
Following the Flag Rules of the United States
Let’s begin with a closer look at the Flag Code. What do these flag rules say about the way in which homeowners fly the American flag? (Important note: The Code is still federal law, though it is no longer enforced in the court system.)
Some general flag rules, as summarized in the Code, include:
- The flag is never to be on the ground, nor touching anything beneath it.
- There should not be any markings, drawings, or insignia on the flag, nor should there be any attached to the flag.
- The flag should only be displayed between sunrise and sunset.
- For homeowners who wish to display their flag at night, proper lighting is required.
- Unless the homeowner is using a special flag, designed for use in all weather, then the flag should be taken inside during storms or other inclement weather.
- The Code encourages the display of the flag on all days, but especially days like Veteran’s Day, Armed Forces Day, Flag Day, Constitution Day, Christmas Day, and the other patriotic holidays we cited above.
- On Memorial Day, it is custom to fly the flag at half-mast, in honor of the military veterans who served and sacrificed. Before sunset, the flag may briefly be raised to its highest position.
- When flags become tattered or otherwise unable to be displayed properly, homeowners should dispose of the flag in a dignified way. Burning is customary, though the HOA Board may request that homeowners instead shred or recycle the flag.
These are the basic statute, as outlined in federal law, for the proper patriotic display of the American flag. HOAs may allow homeowners to fly their flags but should encourage them to abide by these basic policies. Note: Not everyone in your community will be up-to-speed on the Code, so you may want to send out periodic reminders and homeowner communications, simply reiterating the main points of the Code.
Imposing Restrictions on the American Flag
Beyond the basic tenets of the Code, what other “reasonable restrictions” can your HOA place on the freedom to display the American flag?
Again, it is not just unwise but also illegal for the HOA to try to keep people from displaying their American flag. With that said, there are some basic, common-sense guidelines you can impose to ensure that the flying of the flag never has an adverse effect on property values, nor on the neighborhood’s uniform aesthetic.
Some examples include:
- The Association may place restrictions on the height of any flag pole used on a homeowner’s property. Similarly, the HOA may indicate proper flag pole locations.
- Some HOAs require homeowners to request approval for their flag displays. The purpose of this is to make certain that the flag is not positioned somewhere that would obstruct the views of other homeowners. The HOA can also rule against any flag placements that would bring the flag into contact with surrounding water pipes or gutters (which would be a Code violation).
- The HOA can dictate that any flag poles that are used fit in with the overall architectural style of the neighborhood.
- Also keep in mind that the HOA can impose fines or sanctions on homeowners who do not abide by the HOA flag rules. With that said, these penalties will need to be clearly outlined in the governing documents of the community.
Tips for Communications of HOA Flag Rules
As your HOA grapples with the best ways to enforce its HOA flag rules, there are a few tips that may help.
- First, make sure you make it clear to homeowners that you are not trying to keep anyone from displaying their flag. This can obviously be a heated issue, and it’s always wise to emphasize your support for the American flag on display. Simply note that the rules you have, including those outlined in your governing documents, are designed for honorable, dignified flag use.
- Again, not everyone in your community is going to know the Code, so it is wise to send out periodic reminders. This also gives you the opportunity to stress that the rules in your governing documents are fully compliant with state laws as well as federal ones.
- Even with clear, reasonable rules in place, you will likely still need to deal with non-compliance from time to time. Again, this can be a touchy subject, so it’s important to respond wisely. You need to be firm about the rules in your governing documents, without coming across as overly authoritarian. The best approach is to have a standard practice for handling non-compliance issues, perhaps beginning with an official letter from the Board, gently reminding the homeowner of flag policies. Don’t deviate from this standard practice; fair, consistent enforcement is key.
- Anytime you have a homeowner who is non-compliant with your flag policies, be quick to offer suggestions for how they can fix the problem. You want to make it clear that you encourage people to fly the flag, so long as they do so in a way that complies with your governing documents.
- If you have a flag dispute that really gets out of hand, you can seek guidance from your HOA management company or even an HOA attorney. Hopefully, it won’t come to that!
With these basic principles, you should be ready to clearly, consistently enforce flag policies in your community.
Seek Advice from Your HOA Management Company
In these divided times, any issue involving patriotic display can very quickly become heated and combative. That’s really the last thing you want in your HOA. To help navigate these thorny issues, you may wish to enlist the expertise of a professional HOA management company.
Kuester Management Group provides community management services in Charlotte, NC, as well as HOA management in Myrtle Beach. We have a lot of experience helping Boards develop clear policies, and would love to talk with you further. Reach out at your next opportunity.