Your Village: Why did City of Iowa City workers remove my yard signs?

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Yard signs in Iowa City. — photo by Paul Brennan

Liana from Iowa City contacted Little Village after a city worker removed a sign from her yard, to ask if the city has changed its policy on yard signs.

“There’s been no change,” Jann Ream of Building Inspection Services in Iowa City’s Department of Neighborhood and Development Services told Little Village. “If a sign is located in a right-of-way, it will be removed.”

Liana’s “You are loved. Your life matters.” sign had been in the right-of-way in front of her house since January. The right-of-way is the area between the sidewalk and the street, and it is public property.

“If [a building] inspector is in a neighborhood doing an inspection, and he sees [signs in the right-of-way], he will pull them,” Ream explained. “It’s as simple as that.”

City ordinances prohibit signs in the right-of-way.

“We can’t differentiate between various types of signs. It doesn’t matter if it’s a political sign or a commercial sign, or just a sign with a nice message,” Ream said. “If we’re going to pull the signs that are lining Highway 1, we can’t treat these other signs differently.”

The city doesn’t issue warnings about improperly placed signs.

“In the past, we did try [to give warnings to homeowners],” Ream said. “We tried knocking on the door, but usually no one is home, because people work during the day. We tried leaving a card, but no one would call us. In some cases, inspectors trying to be nice would move a sign from the right-of-way into the yard. But a couple of days later, the sign would be back in the right-of-way.”

“So, we just pull them. Our time and resources are limited, so that’s all we have time to do.”

Liana and her neighbor were able to get their signs back.

“Luckily, they called when the inspector still had the signs in his car,” Ream said. “So, it was no problem returning them.”

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With two elections in the near future, it’s likely the number of signs the city removes from public property will increase.

“We’ve explained to organizations that give out yard signs, especially ones involved in political campaigns, what the rules are about signage,” Ream said. “It’s really up to those who provide the signs to educate the people.”

“But for the most part, people have been very good about following the rules.”