Dear Management Doctor:
I think a possible good topic for discussion in your e-newsletter would be if people have had any success (or lack thereof) in dealing with the proliferation of these small white "singles" website advertising signs. I have seen them all over our city, University City, MO, but also all over the St. Louis metropolitan area. They are basic 1' x 2' yard signs that say the name of a municipality followed by the word singles to form a website name. In St. Louis we have signs for UCsingles.com, vintaparksingles.com, claytonsingles.com, stlouissingles.com and the list goes on for almost every municipality in the St. Louis area.
There is no ownership information on these websites (and obviously they are not on the up and up if you cannot even get a phone number to contact them - I hope people aren't giving money). We have unsuccessfully tried to ticket the owners of the websites but have had no success in finding out who they are without actually going to Delaware (where the website operators seem to be located) with a court order asking for that information. The signs are everywhere and clutter up our street-sides and peoples' lawns. I have never seen someone actually putting up the signs either (but would love to catch someone doing it red-handed someday).
When I was in Florida on vacation I noticed them all over down there, too. So I am thinking that these signs must be everywhere in the country as well. Certainly, some savvy zoning administrator or planner has had success in dealing with this problem. If anyone has, please lead me in the right direction.
Frank B. Hill
They haven't made it to the San Diego area yet. Let's see what our readers have to say.
The Management Doctor
I dealt with this personally with an Adopt-A-Highway segment where I pick up litter. If the signs are in the state right of way and don't have a permit, they can be removed and returned to the highway department. The state highway department gives them back to the owner if they show up looking for them. After doing this a few times, they stopped putting up the signs because it was costing them too much money. The power companies also do not like these signs on their poles because they cause safety problems for the linemen. As long as the landowner doesn't want the signs on their property and there is no permit, it shouldn't be a problem for public employees or community volunteers to remove the signs. Maybe a general public notice could be provided saying that all signs will be removed and impounded for a period of time to give the owner the opportunity to recover them.
We have had success locally here by doing two things. First, we picked up the signs. Second, we discovered the local office that was responsible for the signs, fined them, and made them finish picking up the remainder of the signs. Seems to have worked as they have not made a re-appearance.
It takes some detective work but it can be done! One way is to research your State's business license information. Also make sure your sign code is up to date and prohibits this type of off-premises type of sign.
Make sure you act because once they start, others will follow.
The state of Indiana has these sign everywhere also. We did a phone number search on one and got a location to a business in Indianapolis, Indiana. Since the business was located in another city, we did not know how hard it was to fine a property not in our city. Since our city is small, our code enforcement staff just removes the signs since there are illegally placed and violate the sign code.
Unfortunately, these small signs are very cheap to make (sign owners don't care if they are removed if they get a few days advertising out of them), are put up too quickly for our code compliance staff to catch in the act, and are generally placed along highways where there is little to no monitoring by adjacent property owners. Removing the signs and disposing of them on a daily basis is the only way to stay on top of it and discourage their proliferation. Then it starts becoming a real cost to the perpetrators. Our Parks, Public Works, and Community Development staff all will stop and pick them up when they see them while out in the field. It hasn't had a significant impact on any one department's operations.
Like most cities we too have had multiple rounds of these signs. Our City Code prohibits the signs as offsite advertising. Our Code Enforcement Department tried to track down owners. What they found was domain names registered to companies outside the country. We quickly realized short of catching someone in the act of installing the signs, code enforcement avenues weren't likely going to produce results.
Our solution has been to hit them in the pocket book. We take the signs down as soon as they go up. Someone is paying for these signs and in the volume we've seen them, they can't be cheep. We have drastically reduced the frequency and occurrence, and assume it is in part because they can't realize the return needed to justify buying the signs.
I'd be interested in hearing if anyone else has been successful in tracking these companies.
Sean Ackerson, AICP
We see the signs advertising singles websites, homes for sale with no qualify loans, new queen-sized mattress sets, and, my personal favorite, 1-800-Got-Junk. Enforcement of the street-side sign prohibition and of the banner regs has become more an issue due to the advances in sign company printing capabilities - they can pump the things out for a very affordable price. The jurisdictions I am familiar with have enabled the Public Works Department to pick up the signs in the Right-of-Way but haven't taken the next step of charging the owner with a sign code violation. The businesses/individuals have to figure that they are getting the exposure they need to consider the price a value. Maybe the signs could be classified as litter and ticket the person posting them (presuming that you catch the person putting the signs out).
Thomas W. Rounds, AICP
Years ago, I served as a Code Enforcement Officer in a small western town littered with placards. The signs advertised insurance, phone plans, home purchases, vitamin supplements, as well as 'single services.' It was my understanding that under our Code if the placard was in support of a political candidate, ballot issue, or a 'freedom of speech' issue, everyone had a right to a 'short-term placard' on their private property. If the property was publicly held, however, the signs had NO legal right to be there, and were subject to fine. In the code that I enforced, there was a clause that stated HOW LONG a political sign or 'for sale' sign could stand, which helped. They were classed as 'temporary signs' and there was a definition. Even with my miniscule budget, we were able to discourage the unlawful signs. Just like graffiti, just as soon as the signs went up, we took 'em down. Zero tolerance. I had to be diligent, but after a couple months, the sign demons gave up and moved on to the next town.
I developed the 'Kid Corps' and offered kids a 'bounty' for each unlawful sign they brought in. (Traded signs for passes to the pool!) To keep my little 'bike marauders' from getting crosswise with realtors, home-sellers, political candidates, etc. (those that had legitimate short-term signs) I created a little form with a location to show which sign to 'harvest.' I was also very careful not to send little guys to places with higher traffic danger. (Most of these signs were in places with sidewalks, paths, or large roadway shoulders.) The kids harvested the unlawful signs quickly and repeatedly! To hold the folded signs on their bikes, I issued bungie-cords. I also issued a little card they could show adults who might be concerned that they were doing this specific civic work. Later, those little eager-beavers were a great source of park cleanup volunteers (that 'payola' was ice cream). Had their picture on the kiosk in front of Town Hall and in the community newsletter. In hindsight, I could have used a service group that took less supervision, but these kids needed the attention. The program was a win-win!
Ms. Dustin Dunbar AICP, MPA
In our Township, we consider these signs, which are usually placed in the public right-of-way as trash, thus we routinely pick them up and dispose of them as trash. Eventually they get the message and they stop putting them out.
A company in India is behind these sites. Here's the site registration information:
You can look up the ownership information for any URL by going to
Registration Service Provided By:
Domain Name: STLOUISSINGLES.COM
Creation Date: 09-Apr-2000
Domain servers in listed order:
Administrative Contact: IMAT Group
Technical Contact: IMAT Group