California Department of Transportation (a.k.a. “CalTrans”) officials have requested that a reminder be distributed to our members once again regarding placement of temporary “Open House” directional signs. Their positioning on this matter is strong and unambiguous: it is illegal to place such signs in any portion of the public right-of-way. This prohibition includes more than just the paved roadway; the area of consideration includes the shoulder (improved or unimproved), bike lanes, and the raw land adjacent to these Highways. The placement of signs within the public right-of-way is not acceptable to our state roads stewards.

It is important to know all applicable laws, codes, ordinances, rules, regulations, and/or guidelines that effect one’s ability to place temporary “open house” type signs in the jurisdiction(s) in which you operate. Or, when in doubt, don’t place a sign. Essentially, this means that any such signage could only potentially be placed upon private property; of course, with the prior approval of the property’s owner on which the sign is to be placed. Even then, acceptable use could only be assured if its placement conforms to all applicable local codes/ordinances as well. Generally, the code direction is restrictive as opposed to permissive.

Understandably, there has been some confusion on the part of real estate professionals regarding what is and is not permissible in reference to the placement of “open house” directional signs. While agreements have been struck with the Town of Truckee to afford limited use of such temporary signage, and various subdivisions (HOAs) have established rules or guidelines for signs, none of these have any impact upon the blanket prohibition on State Highways and their adjacent public lands (i.e., public right-of-way). Highway 267, Highway 28, and Highway 89, are three local examples of State Highways that fall under this prohibition. To encroach upon the public right-of-way inevitably violates one or more of these legal constraints. Not only can the signs be removed by government workers, substantial fines can be imposed upon offenders. The reasoning for these enforcement actions is to protect the public health and safety.

CalTrans expressed an added concern of liability if they were not to actively enforce this prohibition. By extension, regional officials opine that individual and/or company liability exposure, as well as the client’s, expands if personal injury or property damage can be linked to such ill-placed signs. Be it impeding traffic, blocking pedestrian, or bicycle movement, limiting line of sight, or simply being a visual distraction, the concern is real. Risk management is one of those long-range matters that the real estate industry continuously grapples with. Please help us, our industry, and your clients by complying with all sign placement restrictions.

In specific locales, such as Town of Truckee owned and operated roads, the minimal judicious use of such directional signage is allowed per mutual understanding and agreement. The placement of such open house type signs shall only include those necessary to facilitate the movement of interested parties through the network of roads that lead to the home being marketed. The sign is to be off-pavement and outside of any unimproved walkways or trails. In HOAs and private communities, the sign restrictions vary widely, and should be researched prior to the placement of such signs in such communities.

CalTrans maintained roadways sign rules are cut-and-dry – they’re simply not allowed anywhere within the public right-of-way, paved or unpaved. While CalTrans position is clear and unbending, other jurisdictions have offered our industry a bit of latitude in such matters. Yet even in these instances, a few bad actors (e.g., multiple signs at a single intersection or road segment, placing flags, balloons, streamers, or other add-on items that distract drivers, and reduce line of sight range,)can and will result in local entities “pulling the plug” on the privilege of placement.

It is clear that Realtors® are deeply vested in improving the quality of life throughout the region, and are vital to the communities in which they live and work. It is imperative that we work together to promote compliance with sign rules and regulations, for as real estate professionals we set the bar high.