Besieged Castro Pride flag still flying on 18th Street

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday August 8, 2023
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The rainbow flag continues to fly outside an apartment building in San Francisco's Castro district. Photo: Henry Walker
The rainbow flag continues to fly outside an apartment building in San Francisco's Castro district. Photo: Henry Walker

The rainbow Pride flag that new landlords had wanted removed at the start of this month from an apartment building in San Francisco's LGBTQ Castro neighborhood is still flying.

Henry Walker, a tenant of the property who has been maintaining the flag since moving there four years ago, told the Bay Area Reporter August 8 that it's still up, and that he hasn't heard back from the new owners after the office of gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman had reached out to say they'd be in touch.

As the B.A.R. previously reported, AA Property Rentals, which had purchased the building at 3991 18th Street effective August 1, wrote the tenants an email demanding the standard come down.

"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 — the first communication from the new landlords to the tenants — stated. "Thank you for renting with us."

Walker took exception to the demand.

"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.

He also reached out to Mandelman's office, which told the B.A.R. that the supervisor shares the tenants' concerns and is committed to ensuring the flag continues to fly outside the building.

Adam Thongsavat, a legislative aide to Mandelman, 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 keep the supervisor's office apprised of the situation.

The company also told Thongsavat it would reach out to the tenants; as of August 7, this hasn't happened, Walker said, and the company did not return a request for comment from the B.A.R. August 8.

Thongsavat told the B.A.R. on August 8 that there's been no communication since July 28, though he has tried to get in touch. He said he'd try again August 8.

"He [the owner] was super receptive," Thongsavat said. "I want to make sure he upholds his commitment."

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.

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