Hanging On Tight to Patriotism
Some Homeowners' Flag Setups Fly in Face of Board Rules 
By Jennifer Lenhart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2001

Pat Wigginton used suction cups and string. Martha Patton and her daughters rigged nylon rope to a stair railing. Rod and Debbie Huebbers fastened a white plastic tube to a wooden flagpole, which they stuck in the mailbox stand.

Moved by the events of Sept. 11, they and millions of other Americans have displayed the Stars and Stripes every which way, many of them neither knowing nor caring that displaying a U.S. flag or other banner improperly is an offense carrying fines in most of the nation's 231,000 homeowner associations.

"We put it up probably the weekend after [Sept. 11], and we didn't stop and go, 'Are we going against the rules?' " said Lisa Rubio, an administrative assistant who lives in Loudoun County's Ashburn Village. "There are just more important things."

Debbie Huebbers, who moved from New York to Ashburn in August, eyed her U.S. flag, a 2-by-4-foot Colonial version with 13 stars arranged in a circle, as it flapped in the wind and dangled at a 45-degree angle.

"I'm sure that's not following the rules," she said. "We just wanted to get the flag up. . . . So my husband went to the hardware store to manipulate something."

Huebbers is not alone among the flag scofflaws.

According to the Community Associations Institute, an Alexandria-based industry lobbying organization, most homeowners groups in the nation have rules stipulating that any flags must be on poles six feet or shorter in length and that the poles cannot be freestanding but must be mounted to a home at an angle.

Since the terrorist attacks, some homeowner associations have insisted on enforcing their flag rules and asked residents to take down improperly displayed banners or face fines of up to $30 a day.

In defiant response, some residents have asserted their right to fly Old Glory any way they want. 

Wigginton, treasurer of the board of the Maryland Homeowners Association, a nonprofit advocacy group, has 20-by-40-inch plastic U.S. flags in each of five windows in her Grosvenor Park condo overlooking Rockville Pike.

"I think it looks really nice," she said. "In the evening when the lights are on in the rooms, they backlight them very nicely."

As the nation celebrates Veterans Day, the tide seems to be turning in the flag owners' direction.

The Community Associations Institute, for example, has called for a six-month moratorium on associations enforcing their flag rules. President Barbara Byrd Keenan said the group was responding to calls from upset homeowners.

"We're not an advocate of . . . restricting flags," she said. "Historically, we just like things to be uniform. We just want to make sure [the displays] have a nice, clean, fresh, uniform look."

Some elected officials and homeowner activists say the institute's recommendation does not go far enough.

In Sun Belt states heavily populated with retired military, legislators began drafting laws within weeks of Sept. 11 to allow people to fly the flag without fear of fines. 

Arizona state Sen. Scott Bundgaard (R), who represents parts of Phoenix, said a moratorium "is not good enough. . . . We're going to change the law so that no organization can restrict the flying of the American flag again."

In Nevada last week, the Las Vegas City Council moved to prohibit homeowners associations from adopting codes restricting the display of U.S. flags. And Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has urged his legislature to follow suit.

Virginia Del. Riley Ingram (R-Hopewell) said he will sponsor legislation in the coming General Assembly to makethe moratorium on flag restrictions permanent.

Many homeowners associations decided on their own to stop enforcing the rules, or never did so to begin with.

David Austin, a Vietnam War veteran and retired Air Force major who is president of the Ashburn Village association's board of directors, said he never considered fining anyone or asking them to take down Old Glory.

"We tried to find a way to avoid doing anything about it, and we would not initiate any action," Austin said. "My personal feelings would be, if any homeowner association tried to do something about that, it must be awful embarrassing." He has kept his promise, said Rubio, who lives on the same cul-de-sac. "He hasn't said anything," she said.

But Richard Oulton, a lawyer in Henrico County who was a Marine medic in Vietnam, was asked earlier this year by his homeowners association, the Wyndham Foundation Inc., to remove the 25-foot flagpole he put up several years ago in front of his eight-bedroom home. When he didn't comply, a Circuit Court judge ordered Oulton to pay nearly $87,900 in damages. He is appealing the case to the Virginia Supreme Court.

After the events of Sept. 11, Oulton said he had hoped his association would drop the matter and forgive the fine. It didn't.

"Maybe I'm old-fashioned," he said. "I just never thought it was anything out of the norm to fly the American flag."

 © 2001 The Washington Post Company
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