In a win for the real estate industry, the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors® (NVAR) successfully advocated to protect the ability of Realtors® to advertise properties in Fairfax County under the new sign ordinance passed by the County on March 19.
NVAR member Mary Bowen speaks to Fairfax County Supervisors
Under the new law, Realtors® may display “off-premise” signs on private property from noon on Friday until noon Monday. The ordinance also increases the allowable size of real estate signs on properties marketed for sale or rent from four square feet to six square feet. Note that while the ordinance allows these displays, it in no way authorizes anyone to display signs on private property without the property owner’s consent.
The new sign ordinance was proposed in 2018 to rewrite language in the regulation to be content-neutral as mandated by the United States Supreme Court. The proposal was not intended to make significant policy changes. However, consistent sign ordinance violations and complaints about illegal commercial advertising in residential areas, including real estate signs, opened the door for potential new restrictions. As proposed, the new law would have completely prohibited all commercial signage directing attention to products, services and events offered at a location other than the actual event premises. This would have included all directional, open house and corner signs located on private property. The proposed ordinance also placed limits on the total square footage of signs on all properties and deleted references to specific sign types, such as campaign and real estate signs.
NVAR staff met with County Supervisors while Realtors® and staff testified before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. In testimony they asserted that real estate signs are a vital tool for property owners, home buyers and home sellers. Following a February public hearing, the Board of Supervisors requested the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) to draft new language allowing for the continued use of directional real estate signs.
“Our efforts were a true testament to the power of the Realtor® Party here in Northern Virginia,” said Mary Bowen, managing broker with Long and Foster Real Estate, who testified on behalf of the Realtors®. “When we called on the County Supervisors to protect Realtor® interests, they heard us, and changed the proposal to ensure we can continue to advertise effectively.”
NVAR worked with the Supervisors and DPZ staff on compromise language allowing for the weekend display of off-premise signs on private property. This exemption mirrors the agreement NVAR has with Fairfax County for the display of signs in the right-of-way on weekends, which is enforced under the Illegal Sign Removal Program. Note that this does not include signs in the median which are always illegal.
“We are so fortunate to have cultivated respect with our Northern Virginia elected officials,” said NVAR President Christine Richardson. “Now it is up to us to follow these regulations – and to work with our colleagues to ensure that they do, too. If we don’t respect the rules associated with this important business tool, we’re at risk of losing the right to post directional signs – and none of us can afford that,” Richardson said.
The new ordinance went into effect on March 20. Summaries of sign ordinances for Fairfax County and all Northern Virginia local jurisdictions may be viewed at NVAR.com/signs.