Fate of Castro-area Pride flag in limbo after new landlord's demand

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday August 1, 2023
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New owners of the building at 3991 18th Street informed tenants that this Pride flag would have to go. Photo: Courtesy Henry Walker<br>
New owners of the building at 3991 18th Street informed tenants that this Pride flag would have to go. Photo: Courtesy Henry Walker

The new landlords of a Castro apartment building demanded last week that a rainbow Pride flag that's been flying there for decades come down "or we will remove it and dispose of it," according to an email to tenants.

Now, gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman's office has told the Bay Area Reporter that a resolution to the controversy has been reached — but this hasn't been confirmed by either the landlords or tenants.

The imbroglio started July 24 when the tenants at 3991 18th Street got an email from AA Property Rentals, which had purchased their building effective August 1. The email begins by introducing the new ownership company and giving instructions for how to pay rent.

"On another note, I would like to inform you that displaying flags on our rental properties is not allowed due to safety & liability concerns. Whomever put it up please have it removed by the 1st of August or we will remove it and dispose of it," the email concludes. "Thank you for renting with us."

That didn't sit well with Henry Walker, a 59-year-old gay man who has maintained the flag since moving into his unit four years ago. Walker told the B.A.R. that the flag has been up "at least 20 years."

"Initially it was a little startling because it was a 'safety and liability' concern," Walker said. "That's vague and ambiguous — because I was not sure what safety concern there would be. ... The tone was very harsh, particularly for the first communication we got from the new company."

Walker said that all of the building's tenants are LGBTQ community members and support the flag. He said he has actively maintained the flag and flagpole.

"The flag has been replaced this year and in 2020, so every three or so years," he said.

Section 1940.4 of the California Civil Code protects political speech by tenants in some circumstances.

California law specifically protects tenants' rights to place signage inside their unit related to an election, legislative vote, initiative, referendum, recall, and "issues that are before a public commission, public board, or elected local body for a vote." The law "permits a tenant to post or display political signs in the window or on the door of the premises leased by the tenant in a multifamily dwelling," though it doesn't protect signage that is over six square feet.

That said, the flag is affixed to the building's exterior, not on a door or in a window.

Landlords who don't put an outright prohibition on signs, flags and decorations in their lease agreements are on murky legal ground, according to civil rights attorney Edward Forman, who answered a similar question from a viewer in Ohio on WBNS 10-TV.

Walker and his fellow tenants decided that the situation needed mediation and reached out to Mandelman's office.

"It was so adamant," Walker said of the request. "There was no room to respond, so we reached out to Rafael's office to mediate for us."

Adam Thongsavat, a legislative aide to Mandelman, told the B.A.R. that the supervisor is on vacation and so can't provide comment, but that he shares the tenants' concerns and is committed to ensuring the flag continues to fly outside the building.

Thongsavat told the B.A.R. July 31 that he had a fruitful discussion with AA Property Rentals on July 28.

The company assured him that the issue wasn't the content of the flag that was a concern but, rather, fears about the stability of the flagpole that led to the email, Thongsavat said.

The company pledged to Thongsavat that it would send a crew to assess the flagpole's safety, reinforce it if necessary, and will keep the office apprised of the situation.

The company also told Thongsavat it would reach out to the tenants; as of August 1, this hasn't happened, Walker said, and the company did not return a request for comment from the B.A.R. the same day.

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