What are the laws and regulations regarding bandit signs in DC, Maryland and Virginia?
No doubt you’ve heard bandit signs are a great way to advertise your services and find motivated sellers. You’ve you may have also heard they’re not necessarily legal and you could get fined for posting them. This article aims to dispel the myths and provide you with the facts, county by county, about an effective marketing tool.
It almost takes a law degree to understand and interpret many of the sign ordinances and permitting requirements. For the most part however, it appears bandit signs are NOT legal in most of the DC metro area.
In researching the various sign ordinances around the Metro DC area, I came across this recent article regarding the decision of Alexandria City (historically, the toughest of any area over the past 10 years) to ban all signage in public rights-of-way. Their decision was based on the Supreme Court ruling in a case titled Reed v. Town of Gilbert. This court ruling “caused a significant change in approach to sign regulations than had previously been used in Alexandria and many other localities across the country.” Other cities, towns and counties may soon take similar approaches.
Years ago, we were fined by the City of Alexandria for placing bandit signs and we had to hire an attorney to help us out. I would strongly urge you not to place any bandit signs in the City of Alexandria.
As you will see via the links I provided below, local jurisdictions have all kinds of rules and regulations around the type of information you can put on a sign, the size of the sign, who or what type of business can post a sign and where, etc. While not everywhere in the metro area has taken the approach of banning all signs in public rights-of-way (yet), it is a tactic that makes the rules a lot easier to understand – posting bandit signs is not legal.
To determine if you want to go ahead and post bandit signs anyway, read through this information and follow the links to do your own due diligence. At the end of the article, you’ll find a few recommendations you can put to use, regardless of which way you choose to go.
Are Bandit Signs Legal In Maryland?
Each of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions impose rules for county-owned roads and private property. In Montgomery County, regulation applies to any type of sign which “can be viewed from beyond the property lines of the property where the sign is located.” Generally, you don’t need a permit for signs such as “for sale” signs that sit on private property. However, if you’re posting a sign that sits “in the public right of way,” which is the property along a roadway on either side, you do need a permit.
Signs must comply with the sign regulations, Chapter 59-F of the Montgomery County Code. There are three different classifications of signs – Permanent, Temporary and Limited Duration. They are regulated by their type, the general zoning classification where they are located, and their size and placement on property.
The sign can’t exceed 5 square feet or 30 inches in height and you have to stick it into the ground. Signs with moving parts, such as banners, streamers, balloons, and so on, are prohibited. Attaching signs to public structures, such as utility poles is also illegal.
To be legal, your sign needs to be at least 100 feet away from any intersection and 50 feet away from any driveway, set back at least 2 feet from a curb or 6 feet from edge of the roadway if there isn’t a curb. Your sign and its supporting structure may not impair clear sight, obstruct a road, sidewalk, or driveway; obstruct the view of traffic signs, traffic signals, oncoming traffic, or pedestrians; or in any way interfere with the placement or function of a traffic control device.
You may not place signs in a highway median. And you must keep your signs off of the shoulders and median strips of interstate roads, which are identified by a number, such as Route 355.
Currently, violators who put signs in state highway right-of-ways will be issued a civil penalty and $25 fine for each illegally placed sign. Plus, the sign is subject to removal by the State Highway Administration. You will have to make the decision on whether or not the cost and likelihood of receiving a fine is worth the gamble.
If you want to post signs in Maryland in the allowed right of ways, you’re required to obtain limited duration permits. What limited duration means is your sign can only be displayed on weekends or for 14 consecutive days. You can avoid paying a fee or filing an application for individual limited duration signs “as long as the signs are installed under the auspices of the limited duration sign installer.” The good news is, if you are a real estate agent, you can be licensed as a sign installer!
Howard County, Prince George’s County, Frederick County, and Anne Arundel County regulations are quite similar. Frederick County Maryland, speaking from experience, is very tough on signs. Years ago we had a sign company place tons of bandit signs around Frederick. One day the City Manager of Frederick drove 90 minutes to our office in Springfield to deliver $2,000 worth of fines. He fined us for each and every sign. I think I ended up negotiating the fines down, but we still had to pay them.
Are Bandit Signs Ilegal In the District of Columbia?
You may not put up any form of advertisement related to the sale of goods or services on a tree in public space or on any public lamp post.
The fines for posting bandit signs in DC can get steep and are charged under the Litter Control Act. The 1st violation within a 60-day period = $ 150, the 2nd violation within a 60-day period = $ 300, the 3rd violation within a 60-day period = $ 600 and the 4th violation within a 60-day period = $ 2000. I personally know a local investor who, about ten years ago, went to a home in DC to meet with what he thought was a potential seller. When he arrived, he was surprised to see that instead of a seller, he was met by DC Police Officers. They actually took him to the police station and booked him. He was released and ended up having to pay fines. Now, this wasn’t over a few signs – he literally put out hundreds of signs – and evidently really irritated the DC Government.
Are Bandit Signs Legal In Virginia?
Section 33.2-1224, Code of Virginia, prohibits signs and advertisements within the limits of the highway. VDOT is authorized to remove any sign that is in violation of state code, especially if it interferes with roadside maintenance or presents a safety hazard to motorists.
In addition, the agency can levy a $100 civil penalty for each sign violation. VDOT also works with localities and the Adopt-A-Highway program to enforce this law.
In Fairfax County, you can put signs up on private property with permission of the owners. But you may not post signs in the road right of way or on the median of any street. It is also illegal to post them on utility poles, trees, or traffic signs. The same goes for Prince William County, where they will remove the signs and prosecute violators with a $100 fine per sign.
Click on each of these links for specific sign ordinance information in the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, Manassas, and Manassas Park, the towns of Herndon and Vienna, and the Counties of Arlington and Loudoun, You can find additional information about real estate sign ordinances here. Vienna is extremely proactive about removing signs – even on weekends.
If You Do Choose to Post Bandit Signs
It’s up to you whether or not you feel posting bandit signs in Maryland, Virginia or DC makes sense. I have personally placed signs in most of these areas and ran into trouble with Alexandria and The City of Frederick. Though it’s been years since I’ve placed signs, the municipality will usually call you and warn you not to do it again. We placed signs because it was a source of deals, and hence, profit. You may also find the leads you get from them more than offset the fines. If you decide to go ahead, here are a couple of recommendations to maximize your investment.
Keep the text simple. Again, people driving by don’t have a lot of time to see and take down lots of information. Limit text to a short message and a phone number. Speaking of phone number – choose a number that’s easy to recall, make it as large as possible and remember to include the area code!
Use colors that are easy to read. Red, blue, green or black on a white background works. Yellow signs with black or blue text can also work. Most of my signs were red letters on yellow signs.
Put your signs out on weekends. Code enforcement officials don’t usually work on weekends, so as long as you take them down by Monday morning, it’s less likely you’ll face reprimand.
If you prefer to use an alternative to bandit signs, try posting 4×6 postcards with your message on them to message boards at your church, grocery store, laundromat, community center or any other place you find message boards.
Understand that I am not condoning breaking the law with the content of this article. I am simply sharing information I have discovered and recommending you make your own educated decisions.