Blog Ohio Real Estate Law / 07.04.2016

Time to Proudly and Statutorily Display our Flags in Ohio

By Stephen D. Richman

On this 4th of July holiday, in a world of economic uncertainty and cowardly acts of terrorism, it seems more than prudent to be patriotic and proud of displaying our symbols of G-d and country, particularly our flag and the banners that honor the men and women in our armed services. Believe it or not, however, the right to display is not absolute and has been subject to challenge.

Recently, in Columbus, Ohio, an 86-year-old mother of veterans was asked by her rental company to take her flag down. The company claimed the flag mount could damage the structure of the house.  You may also recall the story, several years ago of a 77-year-old U.S. Army veteran who was asked by a Summit County homeowners association to take down a flagpole he installed to display an American flag at his home. The association claimed the flagpole violated its rules that allowed flagpoles installed on homes, but not installed, in-ground. Eventually, the association backed down, but it seems incredulous that our proud veterans should have to fight for their flag, after fighting so hard for our country.

Nonetheless, these types of challenges are happening all over the country. For example, in Connecticut, recently, an Air Force veteran is facing fines for flying the American flag in the front of his residential unit, and not in the back of the home where it is permitted.

You would think there should be laws protecting our rights to proudly display our flags. And there are; but they don’t go far enough.

At the federal level, The Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005prohibits a condominium, cooperative or real estate management association from adopting or enforcing any policy or agreement that would restrict or prevent a member of the association from displaying the flag in accordance with the ‘United States Flag Code’ [a federal law that establishes advisory rules for display and care of the national flag of the United States] on residential property to which the member has a separate ownership interest.”

Clearly, the “Flag Act” prohibits condo and similar associations from restricting flag displays. However, what about manufactured home park operators, and landlords? The federal law does not apply to them. What about state flags? I am sure there are law enforcement and other state employees who would like to pledge their allegiance to their state, as well as their country. The federal law, however, does not address the right to display state flags. Finally, the federal law does not address the right to display service banners and the POW/MIA flag.

Ohio also has what is basically a codification and elaboration of the federal law in Ohio Revised Code Section 5311.191. However, it too is silent regarding applicability to landlords, manufactured home park operators, service banners and the state flag.

Fortunately, while many states are still struggling with this issue, our great State of Ohio seems poised to fill the gaps of the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005 and ORC Section 5311.191. In fact, Ohio has two, alternate versions of a Flag-Banner Display statute: Ohio House Bill 18 and Ohio Senate Bill 84, which are summarized below:

SB84-FLAG-BANNER DISPLAY (COLEY,W) To prohibit manufactured homes park operators, condominium associations, neighborhood associations, and landlords from restricting the display of Ohio flags and blue star banners, gold star banners, and other service flags, and to prohibit manufactured homes park operators and landlords from restricting the display of the United States flag.

Current Status: 4/12/2016 – House Armed Services, Veterans Affairs and Public Safety, (First Hearing)

HB18-FLAG-BANNER DISPLAY (GONZALES, A; GINTER, T) To prohibit manufactured homes park operators, condominium associations, neighborhood associations, and landlords from restricting the display of blue star banners, gold star banners, and other service flags, and to prohibit manufactured homes park operators and landlords from restricting the display of the United States flag.

Current Status: 11/18/2015 – SUBSTITUTE BILL ACCEPTED & REPORTED OUT,Senate State and Local Government, (Third Hearing)

The only real difference between HB18 and SB84 seems to be the right to display the state flag, which is incorporated in the Ohio Senate vs the Ohio House version.

Truly, on this July 4th, congratulations are in order to the Ohio House and Ohio Senate for recognizing the need to display our banners, our flags, and our patriotic pride. However, “timing is everything”, and in this author’s opinion it is time to bring one of these bills (preferably the senate version) out of committee, to a vote and to the governor to sign.