Displaying the Flag

Adam J. Cohen
Common Interest Magazine
August 2014

During July 4th, and other National holidays, many people display the American Flag outside their homes in honor of the holiday.  Our flag symbolizes and unifies us as a nation, and displaying it where we live is a way of commemorating both the birth of our country and the sacrifices that so many have made for it.  When these proud Americans live in communities controlled by residential associations, it’s important that they and their boards are familiar with the laws which govern how to display the flag.

Congress has enacted statutes which, although they impose no penalties for violations, explain the expected methods for civilian display of the American Flag.  They provide that the flag should only be displayed outdoors during daylight hours unless properly illuminated at night, and never in such a way that it will touch the ground or anything else beneath it or become soiled, torn, or damaged.  The statutes go on to say that the flag should be displayed with the blue field stars (called the “union”) at the highest point along the staff or, if mounted directly, to the observer’s top left.  No other insignia, mark, advertising, lettering, or picture of any kind should be placed on the flag; in fact, doing so is technically a misdemeanor under Connecticut law.

In 2005, Congress enacted the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act which prohibits condominiums and similar community associations from adopting or enforcing any policy or entering any agreement that would restrict or prevent unit owners from displaying the American Flag on any portion of the property which they own or have exclusive rights to possess or use. Under Connecticut law, this means the “unit” and the “limited common elements” as those terms are defined in the declaration.  Often this means the resident has a legal right to display the flag in the unit’s window or on its deck, but not mounted from the exterior siding or on the lawn, which are typically common elements.  The Act specifically allows the association to ban disrespectful flag displays and to impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions to protect the association’s “substantial interests.”  A condominium board could, for example, fine a resident from displaying a flag at night without illumination or in a location which touches power lines or blocks a roadway.

Connecticut has incorporated the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act into the Common Interest Ownership Act, and also given unit owners a parallel right to display the Connecticut state flag.  When displayed together, federal law forbids displaying any state flag higher than or to the observer’s left of the American Flag.

Adam J. Cohen is an attorney with the Law Firm of Pullman & Comley, LLC headquartered in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  As the Chair of its Community Associations Section, he represents and gives seminars to condominiums, tax districts, and other communities in matters ranging from amendments of governing documents to revenue collection strategies and commercial disputes.