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Answer Man: Check local rules for political signs

October 4, 2018

Editor’s note: Enjoy this Classic Answer Man column from Sept. 23. 2016.

Dear Answer Man, is it legal to have a political sign on business property?

For mom-and-pop businesses, you bet your sweet bippy it is. Free speech is free speech, whether you own an ice cream stand, a bike shop or a farm. Corporations, limited liability corporations and some nonprofit corporations can’t have candidate or party signs up, but it’s A-OK for garden-variety, sole proprietor businesses. (It’s A-OK for a corporation to provide meeting space for political candidates and organizations, by the way, but not advertising space.)

Cities and municipalities can regulate the size and “physical characteristics” of signs, but only within limits.

Is it a good idea for your business to be associated with Clinton, Trump or name your candidate? The statutes are silent on that point.

Here’s another issue that comes up every election year: Can you put a yard sign in a vacant lot or in the right-of-way along a city street? If it’s your vacant land, sure. Regarding right-of-ways, it’s trickier. Here’s what the Minnesota League of Cities says:

“In some situations and with proper approvals, state law seems to allow the posting of certain signs within rights of way along city streets. Because the law often can get confusing about signs in rights of way, cities should consult their city attorneys. Worth noting, however, is that Minnesota’s Outdoor Advertising Control Act specifically does prohibit placement of advertising devices (including campaign signs):

• On private land without the consent of the owner or occupant

• On public utility poles

• On trees or shrubs

• As paintings or drawings on rocks or natural features.

In Rochester, the city ordinance is explicit that signs and fliers aren’t allowed in the public right-of-way, on utility poles, fire hydrants, etc. That ordinance is lightly enforced. In my neighborhood, you’ll often see melancholy fliers for lost dogs, ads for garage sales and other notes posted on light poles, which is as it should be — law enforcement requires common sense.

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