- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

Years ago, a furious homeowner called me about having been reprimanded by his condominium association for hanging a "nonneutral" drapery on his balcony.

Trying to help him find a loophole, I suggested that he research his condo documents to see if he could find the definition of "neutral." But then he told me this "nonneutral" drapery was the U.S. flag, Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes.

Many homeowners who live where there are property-owner associations scrap with association leadership on expressing their patriotism. This especially comes up during the usual patriotic holidays such as Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day and other times when our symbol of freedom is pulled out to be displayed with pride.

Sometimes, homeowners are cited for not hanging the flag appropriately or for hanging it with too much fanfare. They are warned sternly by the condo-dictator that further steps will be taken and fines will be allotted if the violation happens again.

It does seem a bit overbearing to treat the hanging of our U.S. flag as if it were in the same category as a drooping gutter. But such is the world of homeowners associations.

Basically, "community association" (also referred to as homeowners or condominium associations) is just a generic term used to describe residential developments in which each owner is bound to a real estate organization by a set of governing documents that require adherence to a set of rules and the payment of assessments. That's the definition provided by the Community Associations Institute (CAI), which provides education and resources to America's 231,000 residential condominium, cooperative and homeowners associations and related professionals and service providers.

About 47 million Americans live within community associations, according to the CAI (www.caionline.org). There are 231,000 community associations in the United States. Only 500 existed in 1965. About 50 percent of all new homes built in major metropolitan areas fall within the purview of community associations. Thus, the use and rulings of homeowners associations will grow as we move forward.

Is this just another layer of bureaucracy placed upon homeowners (along with the financial obligations dues, rather than taxes), or is it a necessary element of homeownership that helps protect property values and keep wayward neighbors in line?

That depends on your preference. Personally, I live in a subdivision that has a voluntary homeowners association, as well as a voluntary pool and tennis club. The pool and tennis club must appeal to owners who want to pay as they go on these amenities, and it gets tough to maintain these services without the support of the whole community.

While I enjoy the voluntary aspect of this arrangement, it does get irritating not knowing whom to contact when there appear to be outrageous violations of the homeowners association regulations … but wait, there are no regulations. So I have to live with the bordering neighbor who won't trim his trees and protect my fencing.

With a stricter homeowners association, he would be cited and forced to maintain the property for the public good. Also, with a stricter homeowners association, other neighbors would not be allowed to raise Old Glory during the patriotic holidays or at least all of the flagpoles would have to look exactly alike with the same flag sizes, the same lighting structures. Whatever happened to individuality?

As you can see, there are good points and some not so good points. The great thing about this country, however, is that we all have a choice to live in a restrictive or not-so-restrictive community. That's part of the American dream.

If your homeowners association wants to enact a flag policy, it's helpful to know what's accepted and what's verboten as far as the Stars and Stripes are concerned. The Federal Flag Code lays down these rules to flying the U.S. flag.

• The flag may be displayed at all times provided it's illuminated during darkness. Otherwise, it should fly from sunrise to sunset.

• The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered slowly.

• When flown on the same staff with city, state and organization flags, the U.S. flag should be at the top.

• When other flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the U.S. flag should be hoisted first and lowered last. It must be to the right of other flags; no other flag should stand higher than it does.

• Never drape the flag or draw it back in folds.

• Never let the flag touch anything beneath it, such as the ground or floor.

• Never display the flag with the union (blue field with 50 stars) down, except as a signal of distress.

• Never place anything on the flag, such as letters, insignias or designs.

• Never use the flag to hold objects of any kind.

M. Anthony Carr has covered real estate issues for the past 13 years. Reach him via e-mail ([email protected]).

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