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About one-third of our business is outdoor signs, and we’re often asked that question: “Will I have to get a permit?”  Most people are pretty familiar with the concept of building permits; the system exists to ensure that any construction is within the limitations the city has set, is performed safely, and conforms to the social standards of the community. (And by the way, it gives the city a little slice of the construction pie.)

Signs are no different. Most rational people agree that signs should be regulated to some extent, for all the same reasons as building construction – to keep the size, number, and type within reasonable limits; to keep them from falling over or starting a fire, and to keep the messaging socially acceptable.

Makes Sense… So Do I Need a Permit?

If your sign is outside, the answer in most cases is “Yes”. We’ll talk about a few common exceptions later, but generally, if you’re building a new sign, updating a sign, or just changing the faces, a permit is required. Here’s what cities are looking for in various types of signs, i.e., what they’re regulating:

  • Pylon/Pole and Monument Signs – Proper foundation and structure, not restricting street visibility, and not inundating the landscape with signs.
  • Building Signs – Reasonable (not excessive) sizing and safe attachment to the wall.
  • Lighted Signs – Proper electrical construction (often UL certification is required) and proper connection to power; lighting that is not hazardous to drivers or obtrusive to neighbors (especially residential).
  • All Signs – Signage that will not deteriorate in a short time and be a blight on the neighborhood; messaging and imagery that will not be considered offensive or obscene (virtually every sign code has a clause referring to “moral standards of the community”). This is why just replacing faces requires a permit.

To complicate matters, cities divide their land into zones based on acceptable use – at a high level, generally Residential, Commercial, and Industrial – and set different signage standards for each zoning designation.  Furthermore, every city has different zoning designations, organizes its codes differently, and has different limits on signage. And they have different processes to submit applications and receive permits.


Ugh… Let’s Just Put Up the Sign Without a Permit

That can be done, but you better understand the risks.  If/when the city finds out you have an unpermitted sign, they will usually give you a short window to get a permit.  If you don’t comply, they will force you to take it down.  If you apply for the permit and the sign is found to be non-compliant, they will again force you to take it down.  By then you’ve paid for a sign and to have it installed, paid to get a permit, then paid to take it down, and you still don’t have a sign.  Let’s just do it right from the beginning.

By the way, ethical, professional sign companies won’t install unpermitted signs – they risk losing their bond or even their business license.

You Said Something About Exceptions?

Every city has a list of exempt signs – those that don’t need a permit – but even those have restrictions.  Here are the most common ones:

  • Real Estate signs advertising property for sale, but be aware they still have size limits that can vary by property zoning.
  • Temporary “Coming Soon” or “Now Open” signs, generally with a time limit.
  • Political signs, which typically must be removed a few days after the election.
  • Street numbers, if they are of a proper size.

Okay, I Need a Permit. How Do I Start?

The good news is that MetroCenter Signworks can take care of all of that for you.  No, we don’t have every zoning ordinance memorized for every city in our service area, but we know how to find the ones we don’t already have on file, determine what will be allowed, assemble the necessary documents, and work with city officials. Whenever possible we figure out the allowance before we meet with a client for the first time so we can match their expectations to the city’s, and not waste anyone’s time on a project that’s not likely to be approved.

Get your outdoor sign project started right with a call to MetroCenter Signworks at 615-649-5003, or visit our website at today!