Too many flags?
April 24, 2016 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Can I tell my tenant he can only have one flag in the yard?

My tenant has two flags flying in his front yard. I want to ask him to only have one flag because 2 or more flags can be interpreted as being racist where I live.

He said he wants to put up more flags so I need to shut this down but I'm worried that he may turn this into a 'cause' and fight me on it.

In the USA can a landlord legally restrict the amount of flags a tenant displays?
posted by 17.5002 to Law & Government (26 answers total)
 
Are these flags on the front of a house? Or on rods stuck into the ground? Or are there actual flagpoles?
posted by yesster at 12:27 PM on April 24, 2016


Unless there is something in the contract, or city/county/state laws restricting it, no.

You could tell the tenant that next week you'll paint the entire exterior hot pink, and negotiate.
posted by nickggully at 12:27 PM on April 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think it kind of doesn't matter whether you're allowed to tell him that. You can tell him whatever you want. BUT I don't think "displays too many flags" is likely to be legal grounds for eviction anywhere, so it's not clear what you can do about it if they just ignore you. Since it's a house, one option might be to check the lease to see if he's actually renting the yard/exterior or just the house (inside). If he's not renting the yard, then he can't have his things outside of his the space he is renting.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:32 PM on April 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


actual flagpoles that he set up. not in cement but somehow pounded in the ground.
posted by 17.5002 at 12:36 PM on April 24, 2016


It's not about the flags, it's about the physical installation/changing your property.

But be ready for him to make a royal fuss - flag disputes show up in my local news several times a year.
posted by SMPA at 12:40 PM on April 24, 2016 [10 favorites]


You need to look at your contract for any terms that may conceivably interpreted in your favor governing this. Something along the lines of improvements/alterations, or damages. Also, is the agreement month to month or a year long? if it's a month to month you might also enter the new term into a new lease agreement next month with 30 day's notice.
posted by Karaage at 12:40 PM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Did he check for underground utilities before installing the flagpoles? If not, he probably violated local laws.

It is an alteration of your property.
posted by yesster at 12:51 PM on April 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


Is he renting an entire house, including the yard, or just a room in a house, or an apartment, or what exactly?
posted by zachlipton at 12:58 PM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


What does the lease say? If there is a clause in there for no changes to the property without prior approval, then they've broken the lease (assuming this is the physical changes to the property i.e. flag poles and not just a flag hanging from the ceiling).

In addition to what yesster said, underground utilities are a bit of a crapshot - some places will enforce them with a heavy hand others just get involved under major construction or where there is a real change you can cause damage i.e. heavy equipment. My current home has a local law about no digging without calling it in first, but I've talked to cops and they said that in 15+ years in my community they've only enforced it a handful of times mostly when a CAT was involved.

However, this is all the heavy handed approach - why don't you just approach your tenant and ask them not to display anymore flags or at least limit it to non offensive or non-political flags? Also, is this an area where flags are considered acceptable even though many would find them offensive (like the Confederate flag)?
posted by lpcxa0 at 1:00 PM on April 24, 2016


Maybe you could talk with him and negotiate installing something more meaningful to him (a raised garden bed, Christmas decorations, ornamental landscaping/a tree/roses, a basic patio) in exchange for him agreeing to not add other stuff to the outside, to let the exterior of the place be gracious and attractive and welcoming above all.

You could also add that this would avoid splitting focus from the one flag - one flag alone has all the dignity and gravitas it needs, after all. Multiple flags may make it seem like he doesn't think that the flag alone is meaningful enough; one flag has all the power it needs.
posted by amtho at 1:00 PM on April 24, 2016


It's a month to month contract and it says all decoration, repairs or alterations must have prior written permission. I didn't think that applied to the flagpoles but now I do.
posted by 17.5002 at 1:01 PM on April 24, 2016


He rents a house with a large yard.
posted by 17.5002 at 1:04 PM on April 24, 2016


People can put restrictions on lots of things. Hanging laundry in the front yard, keeping a trashy yard, prohibiting car maintenance on the property, dictating that curtains showing to the street have to be white, etc., but if that is not already in the lease you may be limited.
You might write it into the lease when it renews and qarn him now so he can make the choice about whether or not to invest in flags and poles. You risk losing him as a tenant at that point, of course.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:05 PM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


As an example, this 2013 news article from Indiana addresses the issue:

"The Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005 states no "condominium association, cooperative association or residential real estate management association" can stop someone from flying the American flag.

The law, though, doesn't apply to renters."


This would seem to imply that landlords have the right to prohibit flag displays (American or other) on rental property. State laws can vary on these matters, and local zoning might regulate structures like flagpoles -- if you and your tenant can't reach an agreement, you should clarify your rights by talking to a landlord/tenant lawyer in your jurisdiction.
posted by Corvid at 1:28 PM on April 24, 2016


It's a month to month contract and it says all decoration, repairs or alterations must have prior written permission. I didn't think that applied to the flagpoles but now I do.

You have three points in your favor.

Point 1: Decorations - Hanging of decorations, including flags, viewable from outside of the house requires prior written permission. (Important that you treat it this way, such that he doesn't just take down the flagpole and just stick flags up under the patio or in his window.)

Point 2: Alterations - Alterations, including the installation of a flagpole, require prior written permission.

Point 3: Month to month lease - if he doesn't like this or gets into a conflict with you over the two clear points you have over him, you can tell him that you aren't renewing his lease for the next month. Although you didn't need a reason to not renew his lease for the next month, he's already technically violated the lease by not getting your written permission for points 1 and 2.

Alternatively, if you want to be absolutely 100% clear, you can provide the next lease with a new written contract that explicitly lists a clause regarding flags in addition to points 1 and 2.

I think you're on good ground here. Make sure everything is in writing and dated.
posted by Karaage at 1:35 PM on April 24, 2016 [14 favorites]


Exactly what Karaage said. I can't believe he installed a flagpole into the yard without your permission. IMO, that is a significant physical change to the property for a renter to make.
posted by katemcd at 1:49 PM on April 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


If he's on a month-to-month, you can tell him, "I object to your installing flagpoles and decorating the exterior without my permission. Please remove the flags. If you chose not to, here is your written notice to vacate the property as of June 1, 2016."

Do this verbally and in writing, sent via email, text AND certified mail.

He may choose to remove the flags. If so, awesome, if not, you've served him more than notice.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:08 PM on April 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Passive-aggressive alternative -- put up a couple more flagpoles with the local football team flag, city and state flags, maybe a generic Peace On Earth or something. People will think he's a hippie, not racist.
posted by miyabo at 3:19 PM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


> such that he doesn't just take down the flagpole and just stick flags up under the patio or in his window

Yeah, because you are likely to lose a fight against a tenant exercising their 1st amendment rights in a window, even in a multi-tenant setup where signs in common areas can be banned: The Residential Tenant's Right to Freedom of Political Expression by James E. Lobsenz and Timothy M Swanson.
posted by morganw at 3:48 PM on April 24, 2016


If you have a clause in your rental agreement about decorations outside the house, then the flags count. Let him know this is a rental agreement/decoration thing - and probably avoid getting into a fight about why you don't like it.

Question for you - where in the world is it racist to fly two flags? I tried googling it, but came up empty.
posted by Toddles at 4:26 PM on April 24, 2016 [20 favorites]


Ha! As a Landlord, the first thing to pop into my head was "if he pays rent somewhat regularly, I would let him fly his flags!"
posted by Lornalulu at 5:56 PM on April 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


I would check your local building codes. An unsecured flagpole may be a violation.
posted by lester at 6:18 PM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


How long has he been renting from you?

If he's a long-term tenant who always pays on time and hasn't caused you any problems, I would be lax with him.

If he's a relatively new tenant and is already pushing boundaries, I would get rid of him because this is probably just the beginning of a series of problems.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:23 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


My tenant has two flags flying in his front yard. I want to ask him to only have one flag because 2 or more flags can be interpreted as being racist where I live.

He said he wants to put up more flags so I need to shut this down but I'm worried that he may turn this into a 'cause' and fight me on it.

It's a month to month contract and it says all decoration, repairs or alterations must have prior written permission. I didn't think that applied to the flagpoles but now I do.


["Legal" is doing to depend entirely on your state and city/county/town, plus I'm not a lawyer, so I'm just speaking in generalities about how leases tend to work and how human beings behave.]

It sounds like perhaps he installed the first flagpole without permission, but you were kinda okay with it until he installed a second?

If so, that makes it a little harder to argue that installing flagpoles is obviously forbidden, and this starts to sound more like a free speech argument. Tenant-landlord law may still be on your side anyway, but it could be messier to resolve if he wants to fight. (Put yourself in his shoes and imagine flags representing something with which you agree. For example, if I were a tenant who put up a rainbow flag next to the American flag, I'd be pretty hot under the collar if it got me evicted.)

The most diplomatic approach might be say in writing "look, tenant, technically the flagpoles are an unauthorized decoration/alteration to the property that violate your lease. I didn't make a fuss about one, but I'm REALLY not happy about the second. This is inappropriate damage to my property, and you are absolutely forbidden to install any more. And by the way I'm going to take the cost of lawn repair out of your security deposit."

Frankly, since his lease is month-to-month, you probably have the right to simply not renew it as long as you give an appropriate advance notification period. However, you usually can't refuse to renew based on retaliatory or discriminatory reasons, so if you've already gone down a discussion path with him about the racist implication of the flags, that might give him a reason to call you out and complicate things.
posted by desuetude at 12:09 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


He's been renting for one year. Toodles I will me.mail you. Lornalulu, I have a responsibility in my community to not allow someone to intimidate other people. And the home owning neighbors will be furious with me if he makes it impossible for them to sell.

It's not just the two or more flags, it's more of a combination of things I don't want to go into here.

If it was two flagpoles and a white picket fence and flower boxes with geraniums, that would be one thing, but it is not.
posted by 17.5002 at 9:10 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Reading between the lines, I suspect that the second flagpole flies the Confederate flag. In my opinion, this is objectionable enough to justify taking the action she wants to take. This is not just a "political statement." There is far more implicated in this symbol.
posted by yclipse at 4:33 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


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