“Is there any rule in DC against painting messages on rooftops that are visible only to aircraft and satellites?”

by Prince Of Petworth June 2, 2017 at 2:30 pm 24 Comments

“Dear PoPville,

I have a flat, white roof with no tree cover. It is routinely flown over by the presidential helicopters carrying the President as well as other VIPs. And news helicopters. And police helicopters. It would make a great spot to make my feelings known about policy to some pretty important people. Is there any rule in DC against painting messages on rooftops that are visible only to aircraft and satellites? If someone wanted me to paint a message for their organization and I accepted money to compensate me for the expense of cleaning off their message when done, would that be an issue? I suppose I would have to get a permit from DCRA for something…but I’m not sure what. It would be great to earn some money doing this, but I’d be willing to do it for free too.”

  • That Man A

    Id assume you would be subject to the same rules that apply to painting your flat roof that cant be seen from the street (ie. no historical neighborhood infractions)
    id just be careful with my message, deff think something like this could/ would garner attention from the feds depending on how aggressive it is

  • jaseguy30

    I’m going to need to see a draft of this policy one-roofer.

    • textdoc


  • _____Woods

    Highly doubt your roof would be big enough where you could put a substantial message, nor that anyone would care…go ahead and waste your time!

    • MadMax

      News helicopters would certainly have the capability of spotting it (see: Katrina), but if you think POTUS is paying attention to anything you’re as delusional as he is.

      • _____Woods

        just like he listened to Elon Musk?

  • textdoc

    The only thing I can think of is that — especially if you’re promoting a particular group, rather than a general cause/idea — you might run afoul of restrictions on billboards.
    Are neighboring houses situated in such a way that anyone can view the top of your roof? That might be another consideration, both on the good-neighbor-relations front and the (related) is-my-neighbor-going-to-try-reporting-me-to-DCRA-for-having-a-billboard front.

    • textdoc

      For what it’s worth… I don’t think presidential/VIP helicopters are going to be flying low enough and in the same area long enough for any political types on board to read or absorb your message (if they’re even looking or care).
      MPD helicopters would be the most likely to see it. And if a message were particularly eye-catching, maybe a news helicopter might cover it.
      But in terms of making your voice heard and/or having an impact, I’m not sure this is your best avenue, tempting as it might be.

      • am2o

        On Harvard near 13th. The helicopters that circle the neighborhood endlessly appear to be Marine ones. (We have police ones too, but it seems that the black (green bottom’d) Helicopters have moved from bugging people away from cities, and are now here…)

      • Ward One Resident

        You clearly do not live in the flight path for Marine Corps 1/2. Trust me, they definitely fly low enough, and are surprisingly slow compared to MedStar/MPD.

        • textdoc

          Haha, fair enough. :)
          Where is their flight path? I hear helicopters sometimes where I live (the northeastern corner of Ward 1), but I’ve never really tried to get a good look at them to identify them.

  • spookiness

    Free speech. I’d just check and make sure it doesn’t meet any definitions of a “sign” but if its not visible from the public right of way (or perhaps adjacent properties) it’s probably not.

  • Q

    Would that be any different than owner-painted murals like this one? https://www.popville.com/2017/05/i-love-dc-vol-1000/

  • facts

    You should organize with your neighbors and put one huge letter per roof. A whole row of rowhouses that say “F___ TRUMP” in his flight path would be amazing. Come to think of it lets do this all over the city so he sees it every time he goes to play golf or whatever it is he does between making ignorant policy decisions.

    • Amy


    • textdoc

      I like this idea!
      It would definitely require some coordination, though. And you’d need 11 consecutive houses if you had one letter (or other character) per house.
      (And on the off chance someone sold to a developer later, the message could end up reading “F___ TRU P!” or similar…)

  • Roofer

    I did this to my roof. I spent quite a long time considering what to put on the roof, sizing, etc. My roof is 15’x30′ and I settled on a logo of my own design – 13′ dia. circular design. Came out beautiful and it’s on google earth now. I’m glad I went with something simple because anything more complex wouldn’t show up well on google earth. So, unless you have a much larger roof, consider something simple like a logo or icon.

    Target in Potomac Yard has a target painted on their roof. They removed it after 9/11 but it returned later (don’t know when).

    For materials, look to the various silicon roof coatings. I went with Gaco but there’s others. Put down 1-2 coats of white then put your design on top of it in subsequent layers/colors.

    • textdoc

      That sounds really cool.
      One of the few visual-arts things I’ve ever done was a mandala-ish circular design — a screenprint I did when I was in an art class in high school. Your post is making me think about someday trying to put it on my roof.

  • kd21

    Only tangentially related, but so delightful I have to share: there’s a guy in Milwaukee who lives along the landing approach to the airport, and he painted his roof to read “Welcome to Cleveland.” I’m always eager to look out for it whenever I’m flying in to Milwaukee, and never fails to get a chuckle out of me.
    I’ve had difficulty posting links before, but the roof in question is at East Rusk Ave and Delaware Avenue.

  • Anon NS

    The applicable rule is the First Amendment. Not limitless, but probably safe to assume a political message that is not threatening is protected. Assuming you own the property, and are not subject to an HOA or historical building codes something like that with restrictions. Basically, go for it. Obviously, you can’t threaten to harm the president, make terroristic threats, etc. – first amendment doesn’t protect that. But your right to political speech criticizing president is one of the fundamental rights of this country.
    (Act now, while we still have a First Amendment…)

  • gingersnap92

    Funny anecdote I thought I’d share. I grew up in a city in Wisconsin. There was a homeowner who’s roof was visible during airplane descents into the local airport. He painted “Welcome to Wyoming” in huge letters on the roof. Freaked out many people who suddenly thought they ended up in the wrong state! I think eventually he was made to paint over it, although it always gave me a chuckle.

    • Tom

      Hahahaha that’s awesome and I would totally be that guy


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