Limits on Flags at Home Raise Legal Issues
October 18, 2018
DEAR DAVE: I live in Orange County but read your newspaper on the internet. I put a large American flag on my front-lawn earlier this month to mark Columbus Day but was soon issued a citation from our local Sherriff’s Department that ordered me to remove it because my flag “exceeds local limits.” Isn’t that a violation of my Constitutional Rights of “Freedom of Speech”?
ANSWER: Maybe yes, but maybe no.
You can probably fly your U.S flag, as I do, on your front lawn or on a metal holder that’s screwed to an exterior wall. But you also must make sure that it conforms to local ordinances, most of which are designed to protect a neighborhood’s overall aesthetics, keep passersby from possible injury, or both.
Because you were cited for having an oversized flag by the Sherriff’s Department, contact its headquarters to find out what restrictions are in place in your area. Such information can also usually be obtained from the local district attorney’s office.
Flag-flying rules for owners who live in a development that’s controlled by a homeowners association are a bit more complicated.
The federal “Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005” makes it illegal for an HOA to prohibit an owner from displaying Old Glory. But it does allow the association to place “reasonable” restrictions on the time, place and manner of such displays provided that the limitations are designed to benefit a substantial portion of the community’s other residents.
For example, an HOA can sometimes limit flag-flying to certain hours of the day if, say, a particularly large flag that flaps loudly in the wind may keep neighbors awake at night. They can also typically prevent homeowners from displaying a flag that obstructs another owner’s view.
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REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: More than 100,000 U.S. flags are flown over the nation’s Capitol each year. That’s because the Capitol Flag Program allows any Congressional representative to ask for such a flag and then present it to a constituent who requested it.
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DEAR DAVE: I recently left the military after eight years of service. Now my husband and I would like to refinance the VA mortgage on our home and pull some cash out to add another bathroom and make some repairs. Will the Veterans Administration guarantee a “cash-out” refinance loan based on the equity that we have built up since we bought it, or will it only refinance the outstanding balance of our current mortgage?
ANSWER: The VA’s “Cash-Out Refinance Loan” program will let you refinance your house and pull some money out for just about any reason, including to make home-improvements, pay off other debt, or to fund a college education. It will cover up to 100 percent of your property’s current value.
Contact some local VA-approved lenders for details. Also call the VA itself at (800) 827-1000 or visit its internet web site, http://www.va.gov.
Thank you for doing your part to ensure that we’ll soon celebrate another year of freedom.
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DEAR DAVE: My husband and I are getting divorced. He has a good job and wants to keep our house, so he says that he’ll make all of the future mortgage payments if I agree to sign a “quitclaim deed” that would give my half-interest in the home to him. This seems OK to me, but what do you think?
ANSWER: I don’t know how much you trust your husband, nor the future of his job that would be needed to make the payments on the house.
For legal purposes, though, the lender on the home that you and your spouse currently share can hold you personally liable for the entire balance of the mortgage if it goes unpaid. You and your soon-to-be “ex” each signed for the loan, which means that you must pay the entire bill if he cannot pay his share.
Signing a quitclaim deed won’t help: It would simply mean that you would give up all your legal interest in the property, but still be on the hook for its future payments.
In a worst-case scenario, the quitclaim would cede your half-interest in the home to him, allow him to stop making the monthly payments, and then permit the lender to insist that you continue making regular installments on a house that you no longer own. If the bank must eventually foreclose, it would leave a scar on your credit record that would last for several years.
Your letter states that your husband “has a good job,” so he should try to refinance the current mortgage in his own name. Doing so would sever your financial ties to both the home and the bank.
Of course, the simplest solution would be to sell. The lender would be paid from the sale proceeds, you wouldn’t have to worry about any future loan payments, and any profit that’s left could be split however your husband and you agree.
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