Rules for Flying the U.S. Flag

The flying of flags can become a contentious issue in multi-family living situations. Some care and understanding of the rules of flying various types of flags can be helpful in avoiding potential disputes among residents, management, and other association parties.

First and foremost, as not everyone may know, the use of the American flag is subject to some very specific rules/ regulations known as the “U.S. Flag Code” (4 U.S.C. §§ 4-10). The Flag Code is actually a Federal law that includes instructions and rules on various things related to the American flag. Some of the key points are as follows:

  • The flag does not have to be lowered at sunset, although that is listed as the “custom” in the Flag Code; however, if the flag is going to be displayed past sunset, or 24 hours a day, it should be properly illuminated.
  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it (ground, floor, water), and only needs to be “destroyed” (preferably by respectful burning) when it is no longer “fitting as an emblem.”
  • No usage of the flag in a costume or athletic uniform.
  • No usage as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery.
  • The Flag Code itself does not contain any means of enforcing violations of it, but it is merely a set of “advisory rules” for Americans to properly respect the flag (but one should strive to follow them regardless).
  • The law known as the “Freedom to Display the American Flag of 2005” essentially says that no homeowners’ association or management group can restrict or prevent a person’s right to display the American flag on their own property, as long as such display is in compliance with Federal law and is “reasonable.”

Displays of flags other than the American flag are more driven by the circumstances and governing documents of an association. If there are restrictions in the governing documents, they often relate to the time, place, and manner of a flag display. The first spot to check for any such restrictions would be in the governing documents. Absent any such restriction, the HOA’s ability to restrict flag usage may be far more limited.

Chris Jones is a partner with Hellmuth & Johnson. He is also a member of CAI’s Minnesota chapter board of directors. This article was originally published in theSummer 2018 Issue of Minnesota Community Living. 

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