OMG!!! I think I have heard it all! Yes, I just used OMG in writing, but very little shocks me and this has left me wide-eyed.
Seriously, how bored does our Supreme Court have to be to take on a case about “temporary directional signs”???? But alas they did. The case started as a Religious Freedom of Speech and how it related to temporary signage, but quickly encompassed all temporary signage including Open House signs.
The court decided in that a town ordinance that places different limits on political, ideological and directional signs violates the First Amendment.
The justices agreed on the bottom line but not the rationale. Six justices said the ordinance was subject to the most searching form of judicial review, strict scrutiny, and that it could not survive it. Three justices agreed that the ordinance must fall but said the legal principles announced by the majority were too sweeping, endangering many reasonable sign ordinances.
The Supreme Court Ruling
In short, the court ruled that any sign regulation must be content-neutral so as not to deny free speech. A city can impose restrictions on size, type and placement of a sign — but not the message.
A city can impose restrictions on size, type and placement of a sign — but not the message.
If a city employee has to read the sign to determine whether it complies with municipal regulations, then the regulations are not content-neutral. Therefore, the regulations are unconstitutional.
What does this mean for cities and towns?
For decades, Realtor organizations have worked with local communities to craft reasonable sign codes. These regulations allow for responsible placement of open house signs that support consumers, real estate practitioners and their communities.
The Supreme Court ruling will force every municipality with a sign code to re-evaluate their regulations and decide whether they’ve granted exemptions that don’t pass the content-neutral sniff test.
If they currently grant content-based exemptions, they’ll likely see two basic choices:
Grant the right to place directional signs to everyone, regardless of content. This means the hardware store, the adult novelty shop and the liquor store can all place A-boards wherever an open house sign can be displayed.
Throw out all of the sign exemptions. Don’t allow any businesses to display any directional signs, including open house signs.
The second choice will likely be viewed as the easier, cleaner solution. Legal advice is currently going out to towns across the country asking them to review their policies, and many will lean toward the fastest solution.
Whether you are a homeowner considering selling now, have your home currently on the market or have no interest in selling at this time, this decision can severely impact the sale and visibility of your home!! Not everybody has daily access to the internet and rely heavily on pointer arrows and signage to locate a home. Some people still spend Sunday afternoons driving around the neighborhoods that they are interested in and go to the Open Houses available to find their dream home.
That type of home buying should not be stopped!
Contact me about Selling or Buying Your Home in Massachusetts
Bobbie Files is a Real Estate agent at SUCCESS Real Estate, covering the Bristol, Plymouth and Norfolk County areas.