Dear PoPville – Are Politicians Allowed to Put Campaign Signs on Your Lawn without Permission?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Wayan Vota

“Dear PoPville,

I’d like to ask if there are any rules governing the posting of campaign signs on private property? If so is there an entity that I can notify of an unauthorized posting to fine the campaign?

Perhaps this is commonplace, but I came home to find a campaign sign had been displayed in my front yard without my permission. I called the campaign office [Tommy Wells] and the person answering quickly explained that they had sent an opt-out email to previous donors about posting signs on their property. I never donated to the candidate and can only assume that the previous occupant of my new home did. I would think that an affirmative consent from the property owner should be required to publicly express a political endorsement. I’m still an undecided voter but that sort of presumptive behavior leaves a terrible impression on me.

I am guessing this sort of thing is not actually regulated or enforced in DC, given the hegemony of the council to protect their own interests in electioneering practices, but on the off-hand their are possible repercussions I would like to pursue them.”

42 Comment

  • Someone in Elissa Silverman’s campaign did this to my house last year (and a bunch of my neighbors). I ripped it down without thinking twice and agree that it left an absolutely terrible impression with me.

  • justinbc

    There definitely are some restrictions on the placement of signs, although I’m not sure if this is one of them.

  • Wow, this would make me furious. Particularly as some of us in D.C. have politically sensitive jobs where displaying “the wrong” sign, or any sign for that matter, for even a small amount of time could be treacherous.

  • It is absolutely illegal to display on private property. I would tear it down and then not vote for the candidate.

  • Awww, heeeeellllll no.

  • Technically all the property from by front door to the street is DC property, does that impact this? Not saying it is right, but I believe most people do not own their front yards

    • gotryit

      That doesn’t mean that the general public can make free use of that part of your property. It means that the DC government can reclaim it if they please.

    • This is sometimes, but frequently not, the case. Per the zoning map and my survey, I own my yard. Based on a quick look at the zoning map, it looks like most front yards in Columbia Heights are private. Neighborhoods like DuPont and Georgetown tend to have the highest concentration of houses without private yards.

    • This is only true in parts of the city. It is definitely not city wide. Many property lines extend to the sidewalk. You just have to look at your plat.

    • saf

      No, that is not always true. I wish people would stop saying this.

      • Seriously. It’s one of the more irksome myths around here, right up there with the “no building can be higher than the [Washington Monument/Capitol/Random Federal Structure]” garbage.

    • I know you don’t mean it that way but I can see some politician using that in an argument for a kind of temporary eminent domain – that the public being informed about his or her campaign is a public good that overrides your right to own your front yard.

      Wait for this to be extended to tattoos.

  • Oh wow. I donated to Tommy Wells and got one of those opt-out emails, but I assumed that meant they would mail or drop off the sign, and it would be up to me to plant it if I choose.

    Here’s the text from the email:

    Starting next week, we’ll be delivering yard signs to all of our donors. If that works for you, you needn’t do anything more. If you’d prefer to not receive a yard sign, simply click here to opt out.

    • Sounds very problematic that they are sending this info by e-mail rather than by snail mail, given that they are planting the signs at people’s physical addresses, not virtual ones. When donors move house, e-mail is (obviously) not going to reach the new residents of the house.
      (I know, it’s way cheaper to send this info via e-mail than via USPS, but still.)

      • OP here.
        This is what I was getting at, the decision to place a political campaign sign should be freely made by the occupant who lives behind the sign. The opt-out email is an ineffective way of getting that sort of permission. Although it may be ok to use that as a first step, the second step should be to knock and get the permission before leaving signs displayed.
        When I found the sign, I was angry, and the response from the campaign office to come retrieve their sign didn’t placate me. Since I doubted there was an official remedy, I went with shaming. Otherwise the only disincentive for campaigns to continue abusing individuals’ political endorsements is the cost of the signs. They won’t get this sign back, and I will think twice about voting for Tommy Wells. I want the Wells campaign, and the others, to see that this sort of behavior pisses off potential voters and they should be more cautious about where they stick there signs
        To respond to some of the questions, my front garden is not part of my plot, but in my opinion that does not change anything. If there is a lawn ornament, overgrown weeds or a political sign in the yard, the neighbors and passing traffic assume it is my responsibility and defacto opinion.

    • Should be opt-in.

  • Considering I watched a crew from Gray’s campaign walk down both sides of my street last Friday and stick a sign in “every” single yard (except for mine, I stood on the stoop and told him to move it along as he walked towards my yard), I really doubt the campaigns really care or follow any rules regarding their deployment.

    I’ve gotten unwanted signs every year for the past few elections, and end up throwing them away.

  • DC’s laws about displaying campaign signs in the public realm (which is a far great intrusion to far more people than one lawn sign inadvertently placed in your yard) are lackadaisical at best and rarely, if ever enforced.

    For pete’s sake…just take down the sign and throw it away.

    • for pete’s sake, keep your snide comments to yourself if you don’t actually have anything helpful to say.

  • I would actually post your own sign on top of that sign saying how tasteless it is for politician XYZ to litter your property without your permission and now you will be voting for the other party.

  • Sigh. so, someone who used to live there before had a sign/signed up for it. Now, there are new tenets/owners, but your address is still on the list. Why so huffy? Just say, those people moved out and I really dont want a sign in my yard. thank you!

    Just turn it down a few notches and actually think about it.

    • THIS.

      • but since you’re so uncaring about what happens on your lawn, how about i bring my dog over there and let him crap ‘fertilizer’ all over your yard? what”s the big deal? why so huffy? you can just get rid of it, if you actually think about it

  • I came home a couple elections ago to see a college kid in a station wagon planting a candidate’s sign in my front yard. I asked what they were doing, and they said they were putting in the sign I had “requested” on the candidate’s website. I said I hadn’t “requested” anything, and we double-checked their clipboard, and discovered the sign was actually supposed to be in my next door neighbor’s yard. They had just made a simple mistake, so they uprooted the sign from my flowers, stuck it in my neighbor’s yard instead, and said “sorry, man!” as they got back in their Subaru and went halfway down the block to put out another sign.
    It could be that innocent. Most candidates know better than to put those signs on private property without permission. They piss people off, and they’re expensive to waste. I’d ask the neighbors on either side of you if they requested one. Could just be like mis-delivered mail.

    • Yeah, these signs aren’t cheap. They’re typically reserved only for donors and even then you need to go out of your way to get them.
      I imagine the leaders of Wells’ campaign does not want to waste money and generate bad press. My guess is that the volunteers screwed up with this one. Calm down and toss out the sign folks.

  • andy

    Is there anything that allows or bars candidates from placing signs in medians or other near-road places that are not private property?

    Is there anything that bars me, as an individual unaffiliated with any campaign, from taking a sign on public property and depositing it in the trash?

    • Yes:

      Campaign Signs, Posters, and Placards on Public Property
      The Office of Campaign Finance requires that campaign literature contain on its face the words “Paid for by”, followed by the name and address of the payer or the committee and other person and its treasurer on whose behalf the material appears.

      The Board’s ability to regulate the placement of campaign materials is limited to within 50 feet of the entrance of a polling place. Rules and regulations for the posting of campaign signs in public space outside of this perimeter are overseen by the District Department of Transportation. These rules are primarily enforced by the Department of Public Works.

      In general, campaign signs, posters, and placards are permitted on public property, but a permit is required from the Department of Transportation Public Space Permitting Center. Permits can be filed online at

      Even though candidates for political office in the District are allowed to place signs, posters, and placards throughout the city, there are restrictions within the law that you and your campaign supporters should know about and follow.

      Title 24 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR) provide specifics of the law that pertain to posting and removal of campaign materials in public space. By following these regulations, you will ensure that your campaign signs will serve their intended purpose – as civic reminders of the importance of exercising the right to vote – rather than as unfortunate signs of environmental blight and potential litter. Please see for the most up-to-date version of the DCMR.

      Members of the Public:

      To make a complaint about a campaign sign, posters, or placard posted on public property in violation of these rules, call the Citywide Call Center at 311.

      • andy

        Interesting: I found DCMR 24-108, allowing signs on lamp posts. I still wonder whether I can take it down.

        Also, somehow I came across DCMR 24-109, which permits beautification of tree spaces without permits!!! I had thought I was semi-criminally planting flowers in my treebox.

        You learn something new every day.

  • saf

    August 6, 2006

    I was sitting on the front porch. The phone rang. I went inside to find that the husband had answered it. It was a push poll from the Linda Cropp for Mayor campaign. He hung up on them, after telling them we did NOT support their candidate.

    About 20 minutes later I went back outside. There was a Cropp for Mayor sign in our yard.

    I still wonder about that.

  • The opt-out option sounds a little fishy, but as someone who’s had to wrangle volunteers for campaigns before, they can sometimes get carried away through no fault of the campaign, especially when it comes to yard signs. Signs and lit are visible but don’t require actually talking to people or any of the harder parts of campaigning, so people think they’re doing good for the campaign with minimal effort. People can get surprisingly nutso about signs.

  • Sheeeeeit.

  • First World Problem

  • careful about taking down signs
    could end up in hot water, like the Wookie did

  • How about instead of removing the sign, just spray painting “sucks” underneath the candidate’s name?

  • You should email your councilmember about it, unless Wells is your councilmember (in that case, email the four at-large councilmembers and the Council Chair). I’d ask them to consider passing legislation making posting campaign signs on public property without the owner’s permission, in writing, punishable by a modest fine. Monies generated from fine payments could be kept in a dedicated fund for public financing of local campaigns. Fines related to leaving campaign signs up more than ten business days after an election could be assessed the same fine. The amount of money raised should be enough for publicly financed local elections in a few years. Win-win.

  • Doesn’t sound too malicious to me. Probably takes 10 seconds to take it down and throw it away.

    Or you could come on PoP and lose your composure, that’s cool too.

    • do you work for one? because the only people who ever say that kind of stuff are the people breaking them who want a free pass to keep being assholes

Comments are closed.