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Tired of the ugly plastic signs on telephone poles and neutral grounds that blight the city's landscape? This is a growing problem all over the U.S. Here's some info on the problem in New Orleans and what you can do about it.

The Law in New Orleans
If you drive or walk around New Orleans, you'll see hundreds of plastic ads on telephone poles and neutral grounds for contractors, windshield replacement, tree stump removal, dating services, "we buy houses," etc. All these signs are illegal. The New Orleans City Code states that "it shall be unlawful to place a sign upon a public street, public sidewalk, public right-of-way, or other public improvement in any public street or grounds, or on any public building or structure of any kind belonging to the city, or in any public place, unless express written consent is granted by the city" (Section 134-121).

There are a few exceptions on neutral grounds: It's OK for real estate agents to post signs for open houses for 48 hours before the open house. Campaign workers can put up candidate signs two days before and after election. People can post garage sale signs for 48 hours before the day of the sale. Signs announcing "official neighborhood or community meetings" may go up five days ahead of time. And signs about lost or found pets can be posted for up to 10 days.
Also, the city has the authority to allow non-profit groups permission to post signs on neutral grounds for up to 90 days if they pay $50 per sign (Section 106-214-f).

Removing Street Spam
The city can fine businesses that post illegal signs $25 per sign (Section 134-130). However, the city can't keep up with every sign blighting New Orleans, so citizens can still play a major role in removing them. This is explicitly permitted by the City Code, which states: "Any unlawful sign found within a public right-of-way shall be immediately seized and removal thereof by anyone is hereby authorized" (Section 134-121-b).

Removing illegal signs is pretty easy, but here are a few tips that may be helpful:

  • Low: Obviously you can remove signs on the neutral grounds just by pulling them up. Signs on telephone poles are held in place by staples or nails. Even so, many are within reach, so just remove them by grabbing them from the top with both hands and pulling hard.

  • Medium: Some signs on telephone poles are posted just out of reach of the average pedestrian, so you need a tool to reach higher and yank them down. This link provides some good ideas. A long piece of wood with a screw through it works fine as well.

  • High: A very small percentage of signs are out of reach even with a tool. For these, you may need a stool or a stepladder plus a tool. Once you remove a sign, dispose of it properly, either at home or in a nearby garbage can or dumpster.

Safety Tips
It’s not worth getting hurt doing this, so be careful:

  • Telephone poles and signs sometimes have stray nails, and it’s easy to get scratched. You might want to wear gloves.

  • Watch out for traffic.

  • If possible, work with other people. It makes it more fun and faster, and there’s safety in numbers if you encounter any trouble. (We’ve removed literally thousands of signs without any objections, but you never know.)

Signs to Leave Up
Never remove signs on private property, such as front lawns. In addition, as noted earlier, the City Code (Section 106-214-f) permits real estate agents to put up signs for open houses on neutral grounds the day of the open house (technically for seven hours). They're allowed one sign on public property immediately abutting the advertised property and a second directional sign no more than two intersections away. In addition, people can put up signs 48 hours in advance of garage sales.
{C}{C}Beyond that, you have to use your judgment and common sense. It seems reasonable to leave up paper signs for lost pets and upcoming events like plays, concerts and farmer's markets, since these are temporary and community oriented. Take them down if the event has occurred or the sign's clearly been up for months.

What About Political/Campaign Signs?
It's OK for candidates to put campaign signs on neutral grounds for 48 hours before and after an election, and to leave them up for 48 hours afterward (Section 134-122). And of course people can put up campaign signs on their private property. So campaign signs on public property that go up more than two days in advance of the election are illegal, and you should feel free to dispose of them.

Working Together to Solve the Problem
New Orleans obviously has larger problems than illegally posted signs. Even so, this is one issue that's easily solvable if enough people join together to address it. Please do what you can to remove street spam, even if it's just on your street. If you clear a street or neighborhood, sleazy businesses will be reluctant to post street spam there, since they'll be throwing away money. (Each sign typically costs the violator a dollar or more.) Encourage your friends and neighbors to remove signs as well. A few key points you might make:

  • Street spam is illegal and it's OK to remove it. (Under the law, it’s the same as disposing of any other kind of litter.)

  • Street spam is ugly, especially in a historic and scenic city like New Orleans. We shouldn't have to be besieged with advertising as we walk, bike or drive around.

  • Street spam often promotes outright or borderline scams (e.g., dubious health treatments, disreputable dating services, high-interest loans, etc.).

  • Thousands of businesses in New Orleans do not post illegal signs, so it is a myth that small businesses need to use bandit signs to succeed.

  • Many of the companies posting street spam are headquartered in the suburbs, so they're coming into the city to make it look worse and profit from our residents.

  • Street spam distracts drivers, increasing the chances of car accidents.

  • Street spam makes it look like the neighborhood is in decline, which promotes crime and leads people to abandon the area or to stay away (a.k.a. the "broken windows" theory).

Join the Anti-Spam Effort
Thanks for reading -- if you have any questions about bandit signs, please email nolatoss@gmail.com.

NOLA T.O.S.S. (Throw Out Street Spam) 2014©

Every few months, some joker posts dozens of hand-painted signs that read "Think That You Might Be Wrong" on telephone poles and street signs around New Orleans. Isn't that lovely? Not really. We encourage residents to remove these eyesores from their neighborhoods because they're tacky and add to the city's blight problem.
Especially disrespectful is the "artist's" decision to repeatedly place these signs opposite cemeteries.

Under the New Orleans City Code, it's illegal to put signs on telephone poles, and citizens may dispose of them as trash. Now laws can be unjust and people may be justified in breaking them in such cases. Is this such a case? We don't think so.

People are free to post signs saying whatever they want on their private property, such as their T-shirts, car bumpers, lawn or forehead. But it's obnoxious to put bumper sticker-type signs on public property and subject the rest of us to them. So get out there with a ladder and a hammer or a wrench and help clean up the city by removing these signs.

Thanks for reading.

NOLA T.O.S.S. (Throw Out Street Spam)


A notable development, from the Miami Herald, the New York Times, and other sources:

'Robo-calls' are Hollywood’s weapon against illegal signs

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/03/05/2677231/robo-calls-are-hollywoods-weapon.html#storylink=cpy
You see them everywhere — those unsightly and illegal signs advertising companies looking to buy homes or rescue someone from foreclosure that clutter public right-of-ways.

Most of them give phone numbers, telling people to call.

And Now Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober is on a mission to give them what they want — calls, lots of ’em.

Beginning Wednesday, the city will use a robo-call system to plug in the numbers advertised on signs. The robo-calls will dial the number over and over again, until the company pays a fine for putting the signs up.

The first offense is $75, the second is $150, the third is $250 and then if there are additional offenses the business must appear in front of a magistrate.

Full story: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/03/05/2677231/robo-calls-are-hollywoods-weapon.html

Here's the New York Times version:

By Robbie Brown
In Florida, they are as much a part of the landscape as palm trees and oceanfront hotels: plastic signs cluttering roadsides with messages like “We Buy Houses!” “Junk Cars!” and “Avoid Foreclosure!”

But now, worried about the impact on tourism and the state’s natural beauty, some coastal communities have begun aggressive campaigns against the signs — by robocalling the advertisers’ phone numbers.

“It’s the only crime I know of where a person deliberately leaves their phone number behind,” said Mayor Peter Bober of Hollywood, which uses computer software to call the phone numbers, up to 20 times per day, until offenders pay a $75 fine. “They want us to call. So let’s call. And keep calling.”


And the Sun-Sentinel's coverage of the same story:
Hollywood Unleashes Robocalls to Fight Illegal Signs

And from NBC Miami:
Illegal Street Signs Meet Their Match: Robocaller

And from a local TV station:

14 December 2011 @ 04:01 pm
From Corona Del Mar Today:
CdM Resident Delivers Holiday "Card" to City Hall

Now that's getting creative!

From the Savannah Morning News:
Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs
An eloquent op-ed piece on why signs are a form of blight:

An excerpt: "And while legality and safety are large concerns, the biggest issue may be that the signs are just plain ugly. Their effect on the appearance of the community is a complete negative. Like it or not, visual appearance matters; it matters a lot. And the randomly placed illegal signs scattered along the shoulders of roadways, concentrated around busy intersections each weekend, gives Richmond Hill the look of a seedy county fair midway."


04 September 2011 @ 06:52 am
From the Houston Chronicle:
Volunteers work to get rid of illegal signs

Great story here. The city has three full-time employees taking down bandit signs -- that has to be a record for a municipality.
The city now says it will start fining companies that post bandit signs on September 12, after a short amnesty period:

From the August 31 Times-Picayune:
Landrieu Administration to Crack Down on 'Bandit Signs,' Illegal Dumping

The city's press release is here:

WWL-TV's report:
N.O. Cracks Down on Illegal Signs

Hallelujah! The City of New Orleans is now taking an active role in removing bandit signs and fining violators.

At a City Council meeting June 2, Mike Sherman, Mayor Landrieu's director of intergovernmental affairs, listed several new developments:
  • The Department of Parks & Parkways has removed 9,500 signs since January.
  • Two frequent violators were prosecuted in Municipal Court.
  • An employee from the Department of Sanitation is now dedicated to sign removal.
  • Citizens can call (504) 658-4015 to report bandit signs.
  • Violators now receive a phone call and letter advising them to remove their signs, after which they risk fines.

You can watch Sherman’s presentation here, around the 16-minute mark.

At the same meeting, Councilmember Stacy Head introduced an amendment to the City Code simplifying and clarifying the law on bandit signs. The Departments of Sanitation and Parks and Parkways are now authorized to invoice individuals and entities responsible for bandit signs. The revised ordinance also provides for an administrative appeal process. If an administrative appeal is denied, additional fines and community service may also apply.

Here's a story on the amendment from WGNO, which includes the updated version of the bandit sign law:
New Orleans Councilwoman Cracks Down on Illegal Signs

And here's the Times Picayune's version:
New Orleans City Council passes ordinance to crack down on 'bandit signs' in neutral grounds

I'm heartened by these developments and hope the city continues with these initiatives. Although there are still plenty of signs out there, the roads are definitely looking better these days.


Here's an offender that presents a double-whammy: They post illegal signs and also manufacture them so others can do the same. Googling their phone number reveals a company called Turn Mail Into Profit located in Metairie (2315 N. Woodlawn Ave.), so once again someone from the suburbs thinks it's OK to trash New Orleans. If you come across any of these signs, please toss them ASAP!