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Signage: Rights and Regulations

Federal laws, the Constitution of the United States, and Supreme Court rulings provide protections for on-premise signs. However, municipalities and states have the opportunity to regulate signage by passing legislation and codes that enhance their respective communities. Local governments often attempt to regulate signage in order to create a safer and more pleasing community. Sometimes these regulations can have unintended consequences and create a challenging business environment. In this blog post we will discuss the protections of on-premise signage as well as how North American Signs can help you navigate complex governmental regulations and protect your rights to signage.

The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech

“Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;…”

In 1976, a court case (Virginia Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Consumer Council) stated that free speech rights applied to commercial speech. As a form of communication, signs are protected by the Constitution under this amendment. This means that there can be no regulations based on the content on signs.  While governments can create regulations for different types of signs, municipalities cannot enact certain standards for only fast-food restaurants. Local and state governments may regulate size, height, placement, and other physical characteristics of signage. However, they cannot, without a very good reason, regulate the message contained on the sign.

The Fifth Amendment: Just Compensation

The “takings” clause within this amendment prevents the government from seizing private property without just compensation. This is most commonly seen through eminent domain, when the government takes control of private property for private benefit. However, this clause is also relevant when regulation effectively deprives a property owner of use of the property. In order for a “taking” to take place, the regulation must diminish a major portion of the property’s value. Courts have established that signs are to be considered private property under these circumstances. Also, the government does not need to fully “seize” the property under this concept.  Many courts have ruled that regulations and restrictions that negatively affect a business significantly may earn some level of compensation.

An example: A new city ordinance has forced a business owner to remove a previously legal sign. Without the ability to identify the business location, sales drop, which may endanger the business itself. In this case, the business owner would have a strong argument that the city should compensate him/her for, in effect, taking the sign.

Signs are most often affected by “takings” when new regulations are put in place. However, sign owners must be allowed certain time to comply with the law, or be compensated for their losses.  Without either, the new codes could be considered an unjust “taking” which is a violation of the Fifth Amendment

North American Signs

In addition to designing, manufacturing, and installing your sign, North American Signs will help you navigate the complex legal landscape of signage by ensuring that the new signage is meeting city code and has landlord approval. Our efforts ensure your identity is both protected and maximized, especially in the most restrictive environments, so that you can reap all the benefits of your rights to signage. You can count on North American Signs to navigate the complex governmental regulations to make certain that you get the highest quality signage possible.