An HOA flag display is a common point of dispute among homeowners and their associations. So, should homeowners associations allow residents to display flags on their property? What kind of flag restrictions should an HOA impose?
The HOA Flag Display on the Fourth of July
While Independence Day is more typically associated with backyard cookouts and firework displays, it is also a time when Americans show their patriotism. There are a few ways to do this, though flying the American flag remains the most popular option. But, those living in an HOA community know far too well that the association’s rules can sometimes interfere with what owners can do with their own property. This includes the display of the U.S. flag.
Can the HOA prohibit flag displays on the 4th of July? Simply put, homeowners associations can’t ban residents from flying the U.S. flag on Independence Day. This is in accordance with the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005. This Act specifically regulates homeowners associations and other real estate management organizations.
That being said, the Act also applies to other days of the year. It is not only during the Fourth of July when homeowners have the freedom to fly the American flag. The Act protects the right of Americans to fly the U.S. flag on private property 365 days of the year.
Understanding HOA Flag Rules
Although federal law prevents HOAs from banning the American flag on private property, there are a few provisions worth mentioning. First of all, homeowners must display the American flag properly, i.e. in line with the U.S. Flag Code. Other than that, homeowners associations can impose reasonable restrictions pertaining to the manner, time, and place of the flag display.
Flag Rules According to the U.S. Flag Code
Homeowners must abide by the U.S. Flag Code when they fly the American flag, whether they do so during the Fourth of July or not. These provisions include but are not limited to:
- The flag must never touch the ground or anything underneath it.
- The flag must be free of any drawings or marking.
- Homeowners can only fly the flag between sunrise and sunset. If they want to fly the flag outside of these hours, they must make sure to place proper lighting to illuminate the flag.
- Homeowners must take the flag indoors during inclement weather. The only exception is if it is an all-weather flag.
Because not all flag owners know of these provisions, it is a good idea for the HOA board to distribute a link to the U.S. Flag Code so they can review it themselves. This way, they can show their patriotism without disrespecting the American flag.
Flag Rules According to the Homeowners Association
It may be illegal for HOAs to prohibit the display of American flags, but that does not mean they can’t impose reasonable restrictions. In fact, the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005 specifically allows associations to regulate the time, place, and manner of display.
Some sample HOA flag rules include:
- Restricting the location and height of the flag pole used to fly the American flag;
- Regulating the appearance of the flag pole to fit the aesthetic of the community; and,
- Requiring owners to fill in an approval form indicating where they intend to place the flag (so the HOA can make sure it does not obstruct neighbors’ views).
Homeowners associations can typically fine residents who violate the community’s rules, including flag rules. But, an HOA can only do that if its declaration specifically provides for this authority and if the fine system is outlined within the governing documents.
What About Other Flags?
Rules are not limited to American flags in your HOA. While federal law protects the right to display the American flag, it does not cover other types of flags. Though, it is important to note that some state laws do prevent HOAs from prohibiting other flags such as state flags and Native American flags. Such laws typically also give associations the ability to restrict the time, location, and manner of the flag display.
When it comes to other types of flags, including recreational flags, homeowners will need to check the HOA’s governing documents. Sometimes, an HOA will only allow certain flags during certain times of the year. For example, an HOA may allow owners to display a Thanksgiving flag on the week of the actual holiday. The exact language and specifics of these rules can vary from one association to another.
If an HOA’s governing documents do not contain any flag rules, it might not have any power to restrict flags at all. Some board members may argue that flags fall under a more general rule that restricts anything “visually unappealing,” but homeowners can usually challenge this. As such, HOA boards must review their governing documents and consider amending them to include more specific flag rules.
Be Wary of Selective Enforcement
Because flags are often difficult to regulate, some HOAs may find themselves accused of selective enforcement. Perhaps a board or committee member noticed a flag violation on their way to work, completely missing a similar violation in the neighboring street. Sometimes, eagle-eyed neighbors will report such violations.
If the HOA board fails to enforce flag rules consistently, it can be argued that the rules are unenforceable altogether. Other times, a board might allow one owner to fly the state flag but fine another for flying a religious flag. In this case, the latter can claim that the board acted with discrimination.
To avoid selective enforcement and possible liability, HOA boards should always practice consistency. Perform frequent inspections throughout the community to spot any rule violations. Don’t give a free pass to owners just because they are your friends. A good way to ensure uniform enforcement is to hire an HOA manager. An HOA manager can conduct inspections regularly and enforce the rules in an unbiased manner.
For a lot of people, flags are their way of showing support and patriotism. But, in an effort to maintain curb appeal and preserve property values, HOAs will impose rules that restrict the display of flags. When enacting and enforcing rules, board members should be mindful of federal and state laws as well as consistency in enforcement. It is also best to communicate the HOA flag rules to all homeowners to help them stay away from any violations.
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