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Installing signs without a permit

Discussion in 'General Signmaking Topics' started by Jean Shimp, May 21, 2020.

  1. Jean Shimp

    Jean Shimp Member

    Oct 26, 2012
    jacksonville, fl
    We have always done things on the "up and up" when it comes to business. We are licensed to install signs in several counties. Sign permitting has gotten much more complicated and expensive in the past few years. I'm tired of losing business to other companies who undercut our pricing and install signs without permits. So, what will the county do to us if they "catch" us installing a sign without a permit? Would they take away our license eventually if we did it so many times? would we be fined? worst case scenario?
  2. Gino

    Gino Premium Subscriber

    Jun 7, 2006
    Ask them. They will gladly tell you. Then explain, how you are losing jobs because so many other shops are not obtaining permits and probably not stamped engineer drawings to boot.

    Around here, some of the municipalities have actually hired 'sign police'. They literally go out, snap a picture of all signs and research if a permit was ever obtained. If not, they are sited and fined on the spot.
    • OMG / Wow! OMG / Wow! x 3
    • Like Like x 1
  3. Zendavor Signs

    Zendavor Signs Member

    Mar 3, 2011
    Peoria, IL
    That is frustrating. I have had the same happen a number of times. I was caught a couple of times in the past trying to skate by on simpler projects without getting a permit. Not any more. The municipalities were forgiving the one time, I doubt they will again. It's just not worth the risk. Most good customers will understand and respect that proper permitting is a requirement.
  4. MikePatterson

    MikePatterson Head bathroom cleaner.

    We have the same situation here. I asked code enforcement about it when I turned in 12 non permitted signs (7 or 8 electrical / no electrician. powering off wallpack lights with extension cord).
    Code investigated the signs. NOT 1 CAME DOWN or was rewired and no fines issued. I called back 2 weeks after turning them in and was told that they could only go after the land/business owner and could do nothing to the sign company because they arent registered with the city.
    I told them that I probably would not be pulling any future permits and was threatened with revocation of my city contractors registration and they would call TDLR to have my electrical sign license revoked.
    • Informative Informative x 1
  5. Andy D

    Andy D Very Active Member

    Oct 20, 2014
    Hattiesburg, MS
    Depends on state/county/city and the type of sign.
    The place I used to work had a permit department & from what I remember is; they
    would refuse to install electrical signs without any permits that were required, due to liability, but
    most other types of signs was left up to the customer if they wanted get the permit or not...
    But the removal of their sign was on them.
  6. bannertime

    bannertime Very Active Member

    Sep 8, 2016
    We've seen something similar over here in Arlington. We don't do anything electrical so they can't threaten that against us. But when we complain about shops from other cities coming in and doing signs without permits and they won't do anything about it; how am I supposed to compete cause they'll try and run us out of town. I can look out my window and point out at least 5 sign cabinets without permits. Yet, they won't do anything about it unless I specifically report that business.
  7. Andy D

    Andy D Very Active Member

    Oct 20, 2014
    Hattiesburg, MS
    Someone correct me if I'm wrong, with the exception of installation of electrical signs, I have never heard
    of a city penalizing the sign company, they fine the customer and make them take the sign down..
    • Agree Agree x 2
  8. BobM

    BobM Very Active Member

    May 31, 2008
    Cape Cod
    I applied for permits to a 40' windows, 24' sign on the front of the building, another 24 sign on the side of the building and a 12' x 3' double faced sign on existing lighted ladder frame. DENIED BY THE TOWN. Told the customer only the ladder signs. They called another sign contractor who put up all the signs without a permit. Building inspector told me he was to busy dealing "other more important issues".
    I guess I'll never ask permission in that town again.
    • Agree Agree x 1
    • OMG / Wow! OMG / Wow! x 1
  9. visual800

    visual800 Very Active Member

    Aug 4, 2010
    montgomery, alabama
    If I do a sign in a small neighboring town I am not going thru the hell of getting a license and a permit for that 1 job. Have I been busted, yes. All they did was make me go get license and permit after I played stupid and acted like the store owner was supposed to handle that. Its all about the revenue, they dont care about nothing else but the money. I have seen some horrible electrical installs as Im sure most of you have, do you think the city cares? No they dont. Its about the money.

    Now one town I did get a license and permit in cause it was a big job the revenue chick showed up and fined me for not having my company name on my workvan....are you freaking kidding me!!?? Its a $500 fine she let me off at $250 becuase she said she believed I really didnt know. Well hell no I didnt know and they print in on the back of license renewals statement, who the hell reads that?
    • Like Like x 1
    • Agree Agree x 1
  10. ams

    ams Very Active Member

    Oct 28, 2010
    All depends on the state and area. But generally fines, strike on your license and make you take down the sign.
  11. Jean Shimp

    Jean Shimp Member

    Oct 26, 2012
    jacksonville, fl
    This is my concern- that the municipality would hold me accountable for the sign being un-permitted and make me take it down or suspend my license. Then the customer would be mad at me also in addition to being in trouble with the city. I guess the only way I would know for sure if this would occur is to try it and see what happens or call the city and ask them (ha - I don't think I want that target on my back). If I had to guess how many signs in my area have been permitted as required I would say maybe 60 - 70%. For the signs that do not have a permit I believe the chances of getting "busted" by the municipality is about 50 - 50. I tell people if they want to forgo the permit and install the sign themselves, they should at least be prepared to be able to permit the sign if they get caught.
  12. Texas_Signmaker

    Texas_Signmaker Very Active Signmaker

    Oct 21, 2016
    Frisco, TX
    I don't worry about pulling permits for ACM wall signs or banners / face changes unless the customer requests it. I can see in the online system who is filing permits and for what and no one is pulling banner/flat wall sign permits.

    A few months ago someone from Lindale asked me to file a permit on a 1x8 tenant panel I swapped out. In my defense I originally permits for redoing all the signs on the property few months prior, but they wanted permits for EACH tenant panel. They sent me a completed permit application to sign and I told them to collect the fee from the tenant. No hit on license or fine.

    Come to think of it... I probably have 20 active sign licenses for all the towns around me... If you have to get licenses in a new town that you may or may not put another sign up in that year, do you charge the client the full license registration fee? I had someone complain about that and I told them the likelihood of me installing another sign in that small town within a year is slim.
  13. Notarealsignguy

    Notarealsignguy Very Active Member

    Feb 20, 2020
    If permits were just about money it wouldnt be a big deal to go pay them $50 but its more than that. I get it on large structural signs but this little stuff is ridiculous.
    As a property owner, pulling a permit can sometimes become a slippery slope of problems, especially on older properties. They can come in and start nitpicking ADA stuff, fire codes, your site plan, other non-permitted modifications or repairs etc. Thats why people will side step the process for something inconsequential like a basic sign.
    • Agree Agree x 2
  14. Billct2

    Billct2 Major Contributor

    Mar 12, 2005
    New England
    You will need to hear from other Florida sign companies for valid answers. That being said around here permitting rules and enforcement varies widely from town to town and even within different areas in the towns. Some places require a stamped engineered drawing for everything, even a simple flat panel mounted to a wall. I play it by ear, some towns/jobs I won't touch without permits others I just do it. All my proposals have the customers being responsible for permits on them, twice.
  15. Rocco G

    Rocco G Member

    Feb 27, 2014
    Pennsauken NJ
    Sign permits are probably the main reason why my hairline is a fond memory. I cover three different states (NJ, PA, DE - all with different rules) and it can be annoying to say the least. Our rule is no permit, no installation. Most of the work I do is wholesale installation and these customers know that we need permits. BTW, if we have to get a license in a particular town the customer pays for the full fee, plus our time to get the license and permits. That is for the large national corporations. If we do a sign for a Mom/Pop place I'll build the permitting/license time into the price but the permit/license fees are added to the bill. And at times, I might have 25-30 different licenses for small towns.

    The thing I have noticed is some of these national corporations are trying to get the sign companies to install without permits. Two summers ago, for a national storage chain, we got RFQ's and it specifically asked in the bid forms if we would install without permits, what the penalties were, etc. I turned down a lot of work because of that. The company tried to get me to accept a very poorly written waiver from their customer. IDK about your states but in our area I've been told that we are responsible. An attorney told me that installing a sign without permits, but with taking a permit wavier from the customer is like someone telling me to rob a bank and they would be responsible for fines/jail time. Nope, the person doing the deed is the one responsible.

    And it's only going to get worse over time. Last year we made a whopping 40" x 24" , 48" OAH sign for a local credit union for their lawn. I not only had to get a permit (zoning and building), but sealed plans for the footing, a footing inspection and then a final inspection. Another local town wants the sign permit application to be signed and notarized (original copies only) for any sign permit, even a tenant panel change. I could go on and on about permits, but don't expect it to get any better. It's all about towns not wanting to be responsible for "approving" anything, so they require sealed plans, notarized applications, etc. It's about liability, lawsuits, etc. To mis-quote Old Bill Shakespeare - Maybe the "First thing we do is kill all the lawyers" but that's a discussion for another thread. ;)
    • Agree Agree x 1
  16. DPD

    DPD Member

    Apr 3, 2005
    New Jersey
    The way I understand it where I am is that it is the customers responsibility for a permit. That being said I don't touch electrical jobs without a permit and I will apply for a permit in some towns and avoid doing so and risk losing the job in others because of the issues and coats involved.
  17. MikePatterson

    MikePatterson Head bathroom cleaner.

    I've still got my city contractors forms and check sitting on my desk. I was suppose to renew Jan. 10th. I'm not renewing till I have to.
  18. MikePatterson

    MikePatterson Head bathroom cleaner.

    Around here if you are doing maintenance it's fine without permit. Sign faces can be changed as long as the business name is the same and bulb changes are ok. That is by the written sign codes. I have had heated exchanges with code on a few jobs for not pulling permits for repairing a face or damaged channel letters. The code guy demanded a permit be pulled but I keep a copy of sign, NEC codes in the truck.
    Our city sign codes were written by mentally handicapped group. UL, NEC, MET are not even in the code book but you better "By GOD" have a UL sticker on everything ... MET aint good enough". I didnt know UL stickers put a force field around signs. Nothing bad can happen with a UL labeled sign.
    That was sarcastic by the way. :)
  19. Pixels Are Bad Mmmkay?

    Pixels Are Bad Mmmkay? Very Active Member

    I'm so glad that we only sell signs and don't offer permitting and installation services, with a few exceptions and aside from vehicle, wall, window, etc. lettering/graphics. We leave permitting up to the customer on larger projects. We're out in the sticks, so most towns are population 500-3000 around here and most of the permitting that customers have to deal with is pretty easy. Sometimes it's as simple as a verbal okay.
  20. Bobby H

    Bobby H Very Active Member

    Feb 4, 2005
    Lawton, OK
    Sign permitting is a very frustrating topic.

    Our company does business in a lot of areas across Oklahoma, Texas and some points even farther away. We check sign codes and permitting requirements when the project is in the initial design, planning and bidding stage. Selling and building a sign first and then worrying about permitting later would be a foolish chance to take, especially if we're sending a crew a considerable distance to install the sign package. We will not install signs without the proper permits unless the local sign code allows us to do so.

    If a customer wants to install something that violates a local sign code we might consider giving the customer the option to install the sign himself if the sign is something simple, non-lighted, temporary, etc. But the customer will understand up front he takes on all responsibility if the city takes action against his non-compliant sign.

    I do not like seeing businesses and sign companies installing signs without permits. But it's easy to understand the temptation. Some cities and towns make it a real PITA to get a permit. They add in all sorts of extra red tape and fees to make sign projects less profitable or not even practical to consider at all. It's like a back-handed way of banning some types of signs without explicitly doing so in the sign code. Nevertheless, I feel that if our company is following the rules our rivals in this region ought to be doing so too.

    When some companies bypass the permitting process they risk making matters even worse, politically speaking. There's already a lot of areas around the country where city councils, town fathers, etc have waged war against signs. Just like some upper class neighborhood associations have their design covenants on how all the houses should be painted many of these same places have pushed that "beautification" ethic onto the main commercial arterial streets. They ban entire categories of signs and then cover up what little signage can be installed with lots of trees, bushes and other landscaping. That fad hasn't hit every city and town, but it's a growing trend. If some sign companies or businesses doing DIY signage are sneaking around installing whatever they want without permits then they risk igniting political backlash. It doesn't take too awful much to inspire a few city council people to get on an anti-signs kick.

    Oh, like others here, I really can't stand it when a given city or town has selective enforcement of sign code standards. We jump through hoops getting a permit but they don't do anything about another sign company installing stuff without a permit. Some of that gets into "good 'ole boy network" local politics.

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