Poignant reminder flies in the face of the rules

Condo company wants flagpole in Elkridge removed

August 28, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

When Lindsay Major Ringgold returns to her Elkridge condominium each day, the sight of a modest American flag on the patio of her first-floor unit gives her comfort.

Along with a large yellow ribbon tied to a tree nearby, the flag is a poignant reminder of her husband, Sgt. James Ringgold, a member of the Army Reserve serving in Iraq.

"It makes me think of him," she said, explaining her emotional attachment to the fraying flag that has flown since August 2006, just after the couple bought the unit and were married.

That's why the 29-year-old was upset when she got a letter Aug. 11 from the condominium association management company asking her to take the flagpole down.

"For them to ask me to take it down is very hurtful," she said.

This is no Donald Trump-style, 70-foot-tall flagpole and oversized flag that outraged city fathers in Rancho Palo Verdes, Calif., last year, or the flag Trump unfurled in Palm Beach, Fla., in 2006 that was 15 times larger than rules allowed. Ringgold's flag is relatively small, similar to many others seen waving from decks and front porches.

Instead, the issue is that the bracket for the flagpole is attached with screws to a 4-by-4 post that rises from the ground and is part of the support structure for the decks of the units above Ringgold's in the three-story complex. The community has a rule against attaching anything to the posts that might weaken them.

The dispute is more about the kinds of technical dilemmas often faced by condominium associations rather than a fight over the nation's flag and the patriotism it symbolizes. Ringgold believes that she is defending her legally guaranteed right to display the flag while showing devotion to her husband.

But the letter from Cambria Hall, a manager with Residential Realty Group Inc., property managers for Ringgold's Rockburn Commons III Condominium Association, said that the violation of the bylaws revealed in a recent inspection merely involves the flagpole bracket attached to the commonly owned post supporting the decks above.

Hall said that though a reply to Ringgold has not been decided on, Ringgold was free to hang the flag from some other spot on property she owns.

"We didn't tell her she couldn't have a flag," she said.

Attaching the flagpole to the post could weaken it, Hall said.

"She's jeopardizing people's lives."

A resident who also is a member of the community association board agreed that the rules must be enforced.

"Everyone who has anything hanging on posts was told to take them off," said Lois Thor. That includes hooks for plants, or TV satellite dishes.

Thor said Ringgold could clamp a new pole to the existing one and hang the flagpole from that, or from some other surface that is part of her individual unit, not community property.

Frank Rathbun, a spokesman for the Virginia-based Community Associations Institute, a national trade association, said that such disputes are not uncommon, and often difficult for both sides.

"Perhaps the most difficult challenge is balancing the preferences of an individual against the community as a whole," he said. "We encourage boards to be flexible, but you can't say 'yes' to one person and 'no' to another. These are very difficult situations, but the associations have an obligation to enforce the regulations."

Although Maryland Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett successfully sponsored a 2006 federal law guaranteeing the right to fly the flag, Rathbun said he does not think that applies in Ringgold's situation. She is not being banned from flying the flag on her property - just on community property. Maryland also has a state law saying that no covenant, contract, deed, lease or restriction can prevent displaying "one portable, removable flag of the United States."

At the same time, the law says condominium associations and landlords "may adopt reasonable rules and regulations regarding the placement and manner of display of the flag."

Meanwhile, the flag is still flying, and Ringgold has asked for an exemption from the rule in an Aug. 21 letter and is awaiting the board's response.

None of the neighbors have complained about the flag or the big yellow ribbon she put up a few weeks ago, Ringgold said. The ribbon is not a violation, apparently, because it is tied around a tree trunk, not nailed or screwed into anything.

"I'm on her side," said Catherine Gearhart, a neighbor in the next building. "I support the troops 100 percent."

BOLSTERING THE CASE

Along with her letter responding to the community board, Lindsay Major Ringgold included a copy of the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act, which contains the following excerpt:

"A condominium association, cooperative association, or residential real estate management association may not adopt or enforce any policy, or enter into any agreement, that would restrict or prevent a member of the association from displaying the flag of the United States on residential property within the association with respect to which such member has a separate ownership interest or a right to exclusive possession or use.

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