Councilman Bobby Henon on Thursday introduced legislation aimed at cracking down on bandit signs –those bothersome advertisements plastered to utility poles and fences offering to pay cash for junk cars or diabetic test strips.
"Between the neighborhood organization groups and activists and calls to my office, the Streets Department and L&I, we wanted to send a message out there through this piece of legislation to convey to [bandit sign posters] that we're not messing around," Henon said.
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"This is a city of neighborhoods. Philadelphia is beautiful, and we can't keep trashing it up with blighted bandit signs."
Though bandit signs are already illegal in Philadelphia – punishable by a $75 fine for each posted – the city has in the past had enforcement problems due to a lack of manpower and the difficulty of tracking down the companies who commission the ads, leading to a host of private citizens and neighborhood groups taking matters into their own hands and acting as self-appointed sign removers.
"It was a law that hasn't been a priority, but it's now to a point where we have to take it to the next level to try to change the behavior in all parts – the people hanging the signs and the people who are hiring the folks to blight our neighborhoods," Henon said.
To deal with the difficulty of finding offenders, the legislation, in addition to holding accountable advertisers whose services are shown on the signs, would also make those hired to actually post them liable.
"What it does is, not only just the companies that are advertising –who, by the way, know the law; they've been notified many times. … What it does is, it holds those people that they hire to hang the signs responsible, so they now are responsible for their actions," Henon said.
"They now are subject to a $150 fine if they get caught."
Under the bill, the fine for who those who post bandit signs more than 7 feet above the ground or affix them with nails, staples or duct tape would double to $150 per violation.
Plus, materials owned by illegal sign-posters would be relinquished to the city and subject to immediate confiscation.
"If they're hanging it above 7 feet and they need a ladder – most of them do; I don't know any Jolly Green Giants that are hanging trashy signs – but we can take their ladders," Henon said.
"The city will have the authority to take their ladders and confiscate any kind of mounting materials and tools that are used through the process."
Once an illegal sign-poster ends up in court, they could face fines of up to $1,000 for each bandit sign and $2,000 for subsequent offenses.
Failure to pay any of the fines or penalties could result in suspension or revocation of a business' commercial activity licenses, as well as the loss of rights to do business with the city of Philadelphia.
The bill contains good news for bandit sign-removing vigilantes, as well.
"It also gives a little bit of relief for any kind of retaliation against people who are taking down the signs," Henon said.
"It basically empowers the community – if you see it, you can take it down. You're not going to be held responsible for whoever's name was on the sign."