Litter on a stick? Real estate agent gets $2,750 fine for too many open house signs
Click to print (Opens in new window) Real estate agent Jerry Del Mauro was issued a citation from the City of Huntington Beach for $2,750 because he put out too many open house signs. Del Mauro displays his citation in Huntington Beach on Tuesday, May 29, 2018 (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG) By Jeff Collins | | Orange County Register PUBLISHED: June 1, 2018 at 11:29 am | UPDATED: June 1, 2018 at 12:26 pm Traffic whizzes by a trio of open house signs on a center divider in Long Beach on a recent weekend. Many cities ban signs on public rights of way, including sidewalks, calling them “an eyesore.” But a violation in one city is perfectly legal in another. (Photo by Jeff Collins, the Orange County Register/SCNG) Real estate agent Jerry Del Mauro shows off a citation fining him $2,750 for posting too many signs for a May 5 open house. Del Mauro said he had no choice because the home is on a remote island almost 2 miles from the closest traffic signal.(Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG) Sound The gallery will resume inseconds The citation a city code enforcement officer gave real estate agent Jerry Del Mauro for putting out “excessive” open house signs. Realtor associations say agents face a dizzying array of sign rules in Southern California’s 183 cities. City officials and citizens call the signs sprouting up on corners every weekend “blight.” (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG) Real estate agent Jerry Del Mauro acknowledged he violated the rules when he posted 11 signs too many for a May 5 open house. One Southern California Realtor officials says there needs to be standardized sign laws. Many say the $2,750 fine — since reduced — was excessive. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG) Show Caption Expand
Jerry Del Mauro hoped to score a $1.4 million sale last month when he staged an open house near the water in Huntington Beach.
Instead of a sale, the Re/Max agent got a $2,750 fine for putting out too many open house signs.
Del Mauro said he had no choice. The house sat on an island at the end of a semi-desolate street almost 2 miles from the nearest traffic light. To guide buyers to his open house, he put out some 18 signs — 11 more than the city typically allows.
A city code enforcement officer spotted the signs and issued a citation, fining him $250 per “excessive” sign.
“These open house sign laws are getting out of control,” said one of the 140 comments on Del Mauro’s Facebook post following the citation.
City officials are “Nazi Sign Police,” another commenter said, and a third called the citation “a Communist joke.”
The case is one of the more extreme examples of ongoing tensions between real estate agents and city officials throughout the region – and across the country.
Real estate agents may be licensed by the state, but sign laws are drafted by individual cities.
And because some of the 183 cities in the region are more restrictive than others, agents face a dizzying array of sign rules when doing business in multiple municipalities.
“Every city is different, and every city has different rules and regulations,” said Laura Olhasso, government affairs director for the Burbank, Glendale, Arcadia and Pasadena-Foothill Realtor associations. “If you’re a Realtor doing business in several cities, you’ve got to know the rules in that city before you place open house signs.”
Some cities have no sign limits and allow agents to put signs on sidewalks, the grass next to a curb and even on center medians or dividers.
Others ban signs on sidewalks, curbside grass and medians and are so restrictive “you can’t have an open house,” said Barbara Delgleize, a Huntington Beach councilwoman and a past president of the Orange County Association of Realtors.
Even more frustrating is city sign codes and policies often are spelled out in technical language that even city enforcement officers have trouble explaining clearly. In Huntington Beach, for example, city officials won’t give a maximum sign limit, saying more are allowed in some situations “so long as the number is reasonable.”
What makes Del Mauro’s case stand out is the size of his fine.
Realtor association officials throughout the region say that while derelict agents often get their signs confiscated, fines are rare. And fines greater than a few hundred dollars are unheard of.
“I’ve never seen a fine come close to that,” said David Kissinger, government affairs director for the South Bay Association of Realtors in Torrance.
“That seems obscene. That’s over the top,” added Mel Wilson, government affairs director for the Southland Association of Realtors in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys. “There needs to be a standardized sign law so people know what the rules are.” Litter on a stick
On the other side of the controversy are city employees who have been inundated with citizen complaints about the virtual forests of open house signs sprouting up on corners, median strips and curbside over the past three years, fueled by a frenzied housing market.
“We have received pushback from residents,” Huntington Beach code enforcement Supervisor Rich Massi said in an email. “A few Realtors … started to blanket the city with open house signs at various locations, which created a nuisance and blight.”
Massi said several other agents also have been cited for violating city sign policies, with fines ranging from $250 to $3,000.
Similar tensions have cropped up in cities throughout the region, and across the country.
“We are being bombarded, and Realtors aren’t taking their signs down,” said Lula Davis-Holmes, a Carson councilwoman for 11 years. “It became an eyesore. And it became a public safety issue.”
In February, a Tulsa, Okla., city councilman called all temporary signs — including open house placards — “litter on a stick” and sought to have them banned on public rights of way, the Tulsa World reported.
Davis-Holmes called open house signs antiquated in the internet age, questioning why agents even bother to hold open houses.
“My impression from real estate agents is those signs attract more lookie-loos than actual buyers,” she said.
But Kissinger, the South Bay Realtor official, said they may be antiquated, but signs remain the most effective way to draw buyers to an open house. Fighting city hall
Five weeks ago, Del Mauro held his first open house for the $1.4 million home on Huntington Harbour’s Trinidad Island, spending $200 for drinks and sandwiches.
“Nobody showed up,” he said. “No one on the mainland can see your signs.”
So the next weekend, he posted signs on heavily trafficked streets 2 miles to the east, with more signs guiding home shoppers through each turn.
“I definitely violated the ordinance because of the location of my house,” he said. “If I used just four signs, you wouldn’t be able to find my house. … The rules are good, but you have to have exceptions.”
Massi, the city code enforcement supervisor, said this wasn’t Del Mauro’s first offense. The city sent him emails three times last year with photos showing signs that violated city code.
Nonetheless, Massi said, he decided to reduce Del Mauro’s “extensive fine” to $500 since nobody had spoken to him personally beforehand.
Del Mauro, a 20-year real estate veteran, said he’ll likely pay the $500 but isn’t giving up without a fight.
He and several fellow agents hope to meet with the city council to request exceptions in the sign ordinance for hard-to-find properties.
“We’re constantly trying to find ways to attract traffic to our open houses,” Del Mauro said. “If you can’t have the signs, how are you going to attract the people?” Get the latest news delivered daily!