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Signs in the Public Right of Way May be in the Wrong Place

by Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney

Bandit signs.
You see them at many of the thousands of intersections in Harris County. They pop up overnight, particularly on weekends. They advertise goods and services ranging from credit repair to cash for gold to home improvement loans. They sometimes advertise homes for sale or rent. They may be hand-lettered or professionally printed, but if they are on public property, they are in the wrong place. Our job at the Harris County Attorney’s Office is to help enforce the laws that regulate these signs.

Over the past few years, these signs have proliferated, leading to visual blight, lowering the quality of life in our communities, and in some cases, creating dangers for the traveling public. Based on complaints from community associations and others, the Texas legislature provided additional authority for local agencies to enforce the law on signs in the public rights of way. Despite the illegality, for many years individuals and businesses have used the public roads to post signs to solicit business or sell products. In 2007, House Bill 413 added civil penalties and empowered the County Attorney and District Attorney to take legal action to collect penalties of up to $1,000 per day per sign. Those who run afoul of the law may be required to pay court costs and attorneys fees.

The law prohibits posting a sign on property that is part of the road right of way. This includes signs nailed to utility poles, pasted to traffic control boxes, placed in medians and islands, or attached to traffic sign poles. Typically the public right of way extends beyond the paved portion of the road and includes sidewalks. Utility poles are usually in the public right of way.

We believe that ridding our neighborhoods of visual blight helps create safe and attractive communities which promote pleasant environments and increases property values. We do this by working with community groups such as chambers of commerce, bringing media attention on the issue, educating the public, and providing training to civic organizations that ask for more enforcement.

Our office receives hundreds of complaints each year and most of these are resolved when constables and trained volunteers remove the signs. Sometimes we file legal action to obtain compliance and we have about 30 active cases at any one time. We work with those who have placed signs illegally on public property to ensure that they will be not be repeat offenders.

Some websites promote bandit signs as a marketing tool and claim that such signs can be placed on the public right of way or that the law against bandit signs is not enforced. These claims are being made solely to sell signs and are false and misleading.

While people might be tempted to take an “everybody-is-doing-it” approach and post illegal signs in the public right of way, my office encourages you to check with us first. You can go to our website at www.harriscountyattorney.net and click the “Bandit Signs” link to see a copy of the law. You can also request information by calling us at 713-755-5101 or by sending an email to communityprotection@harriscountyattorney.net.

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