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A billboard is put on top of a person's roof or on his vacant land. It is zoned residential. This person lives on a main road and the billboard is visible to cars travelling on it. He hasn't received permits or licenses to do so.

  1. Is this legal on a federal level according to U.S. laws?

  2. Is this legal in all states or do some states prohibit this?

  3. What about county and local laws?

  4. Do some counties and cities have ordinances that prohibit residential billboards?

  5. Or is a person allowed to construct signs on their own personal property as it is their right to do so with their land as they please?

  6. If this is unlawful, what are some of the potential consequences that the landowner could face? Would they just be fines and how large might those fines be?

  7. Should this person be researching all local county and city ordinances to see if this is legal in his area, or should this be considered fine anywhere within the USA?

  8. Does it matter what size the billboard is? For instance, does a 7'x7' billboard carry less lawful risk than a 30'x30' billboard?

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    This would not be legal in King County, WA, but would be in Pierce County, WA. You'll probably have to be more specific about the jurisdiction ... – Azor Ahai Aug 8 '18 at 15:38
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    As I read the laws of the two counties, there is not that much difference: a permit is required in both counties. See codepublishing.com/WA/PierceCounty/#!/PierceCounty18B/… for PC. – user6726 Aug 8 '18 at 21:25
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    In Vermont, billboards are banned everywhere. You might be allowed to have a tiny one, after being subjected to a lengthy legal process. – cybernard Aug 9 '18 at 4:04
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Laws regarding billboards and advertising are very local in nature and are typically handled under city/county zoning ordinances. Start with calling your local county zoning office. They will tell you the city/county laws regarding your particular residential zoning overlay, if city or state laws supersede county laws, and recent changes in law that might matter and if the sign might be grandfathered.

There can be different types of "residential" zoning and the city/county will tell you this; some allow limited commercial use and signage, and some don't. The housing subdivision you are in may also have covenants; you'll know if there are covenants if you received information when you bought property in that subdivision.

1,2,3,4,8: These depend on local laws.

5: Very generally speaking, land owners typically do not have absolute rights to land usage; that is the rationale behind zoning laws (among others, like health and public safety, building codes, national defense, etc.), because some types of land usage impact adjacent users and the general public.

6, 7: Potential consequences include fines and requirements to take the billboard down, but again, those possibilities are very localized. The size of the billboard could come into play; again, this will be very localized. Some signage may be grandfathered, too.

In order for the city/county to look at the situation and possibly take action, you may have to file a written protest with the zoning office; they would help with the process. You may have to present your case at a public city council or county commission meeting, but that basically involves saying such and such is happening and you want the city/county attorney to look into relevant laws. It would help your case if you had a list of names of others in the area who are also unhappy about the billboard. I doubt you will need legal representation to lodge a protest, but if it comes to that, Google for free legal aid in your area.

If the city/county attorney won't take action (which is possible, as this involves prosecutorial discretion as to if the city/county wants to press the issue with the landowner), you can look for free legal aid in your area and consider your options.

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    Note that if there's a homeowner's association that covers the property, they may be able to enforce rules about billboards and signs as well. States may limit that power (e.g. to prevent HOAs from banning political signs entirely), but the association can impose restrictions within those bounds (such as size or number). – Zach Lipton Aug 8 '18 at 22:41
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It would depend on jurisdiction. I can tell you that my home county of Montgomery County, Maryland has a complete ban on billboards that aren't store marquees. They waged a long legal battle to enforce it against the last grandfathered billboard owner. (They eventually settled by offering several prime bus shelter advertising spaces)

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There's also practical limitations. Many inherently temporary signs would normally be long gone before the legal process could get in motion. Examples would include political campaigns, real estate, and garage sales. They may be completely illegal, but nobody bothers to prosecute because they are expected to be removed quickly.

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    This is definitely wrong in respect to political advertising, where prosecution has been carried out long after the election result known, because the next election is guaranteed to be worse if it isn't dealt with. – Nij Aug 8 '18 at 19:35

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