Q: I’m a renter in a condo complex. My neighbor, who is also a renter, has two large American flags flying from his balcony and front entrance area. I’d like to show my support of my native country by flying its flags, but when I put them up, the homeowners association told me to take them down. Why the double standard — isn’t this a violation of my freedom of speech? –Miriam W.
A: Yes, it’s a double standard, but in your situation, it’s probably legal. Under federal law, condominium associations, homeowners associations and residential real estate management associations may not forbid the display of the American flag (Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005, 4 United States Code Annotated, Section 3). These associations may, however, enact other rules concerning outdoor displays, and regularly do. A prohibition against the display of foreign flags would probably not be thrown out by a judge. As for your First Amendment rights, remember that the Bill of Rights concerns what government may and may not do with our individual liberties. Since this is a private landowners’ rule and there’s no government involvement, the Bill of Rights won’t help you.
By the way, the outcome might be different if you and your neighbor were not renting in a planned community. The Flag Act applies only to these communities, and not to other properties. In a non-planned-unit-development setting, if the two landlords forbade the flying of any flags, you both would have a hard time successfully challenging that rule.
Q: My brother passed away recently, and I needed to get into his apartment to get his address book, so I could notify friends and family. I also wanted to get my tools, which he had borrowed. His landlord wouldn’t let me in, even though I had ample identification. This is a bit much, isn’t it? –Juan G.
A: Your brother’s landlord was probably worried about liability. How could he be sure that your removal of the address book would be something your brother’s estate would condone? And what about the tools — suppose the estate later claimed that these tools really belonged to the deceased tenant, or to someone else entirely? The landlord probably imagined a lawsuit alleging that he improperly facilitated these unauthorized takings, and he may have been worried about other disappearances being laid at his door.
The landlord might have approached your request for the address book a bit differently, however. He might have asked you to sign an indemnification agreement, in which you promised to cover any expenses the landlord might incur as a result of allowing you to take the book. For example, if the estate later sued the landlord over the book’s disappearance, this agreement would mean that the landlord’s attorney fees and any settlement or judgment would be covered by you. As for the tools, however, your landlord may not have had much leeway. Some states require that you make a formal claim on the estate for the return of any property that the deceased person possessed but did not own.
Q: I’ve been receiving annoying junk faxes just about every week since I began renting at my current address. This stuff has nothing to do with my rental situation — it’s from the management company but contains mostly advertisements for other businesses. I’m sick of receiving it; is there anything I can do? –Lawrence Y.
A: It’s not hard to stop those faxes. In 2005, the Junk Fax Prevention Act gave consumers some important protections. The Act prohibits fax transmissions to anyone who hasn’t given the sender express permission, or to anyone with whom the sender doesn’t have an “established business relationship.” You have such a relationship if you gave the management company your fax number, but this doesn’t mean you’re doomed forever to receive their faxes. Follow these steps:
1. Check the first page on every fax — it should include conspicuous “opt out” information, including a telephone number, fax number and cost-free ways (including a toll-free phone number, local number for local recipients, toll-free fax number, Web site address, or e-mail address) to opt out of faxes. These numbers and the free opt-out mechanism must accept opt-out requests 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
2. In your opt-out request, include your fax number or numbers, and simply state that you want no future faxes. Use one of the cost-free methods mentioned on the fax advertisement.
Senders have to honor your request within the shortest reasonable time, but in no event later than 30 days. If you later change your mind, you can give the sender permission to send future faxes. Now, suppose the sender doesn’t honor your requests? Use the Federal Communications Commission’s online complaint form (available on the FCC Web site; search for Fax Advertising: What You Need to Know). The FCC can issue warning citations and impose fines, but cannot award you money damages. For that, you’ll have to file a lawsuit, which exposes the sender to having to pay your actual damages or $500 for each violation, whichever is greater (the court can triple the damages if it concludes that the sender intentionally violated the Act).
Finally, understand that this process is separate from the steps you take to avoid receiving unwanted telephone solicitations. To get on the Do Not Call list, you’ll need to sign up (take a look at “Unwanted Telephone Marketing Calls” on the FCC Web site).
Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of “Every Landlord’s Legal Guide” and “Every Tenant’s Legal Guide.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.