Home church with sail sign
Illustrating a sail sign by church in residential neighborhood
Visitor Question: I have a neighbor that is holding church services in their home on Sundays, but now they have a large sign that looks like a sail advertising this church in their front yard. Is that legal?
Editors Respond: Just in case some readers haven't seen this type of sign identified, we are posting a photo of a sail sign that one of us took this summer. To protect those guilty of this neighborhood faux pas, we have blanked out the identifying wording.
Now your question was whether this is legal. That would depend on your municipality's sign ordinance. Very often there is no separate free-standing sign ordinance, but sign regulations are incorporated into the zoning ordinance. If that is the case in your municipality, you would need to know what zoning district the home church is located in, and then refer to the regulations for that district within the zoning ordinance.
We want to make a general comment about these types of signs, since we see them with increasing frequency in our own residential areas and along major streets in our cities. The ones we have seen advertising churches usually are put up early on Sunday mornings and taken indoors after Sunday services. The portability is one reason that these types of signs have become so prevalent.
We can only hope that the regulations in your city are strict enough that signs such as these are allowed only on a very temporary basis, meaning less than 24 hours. They should be used only to promote events, in our opinion. One of the unspoken theories behind sign ordinances, or the sign restrictions in a zoning ordinance, is that the regulations are necessary not just to prevent annoying visual clutter, but also to protect public safety if signs are not mounted securely.
While these sail signs have fairly good resilience to wind, the ones we have seen could become unmoored in high winds. This is reason enough to try to curtail their usage.
Now you may well be fuming by the time you read this far, because you think such a sign shouldn't be allowed near residences regardless of whether it is left up three hours a week or permanently.
To be truthful, we agree with you if you are in a residential zoning district. As you could see in more detail on our page about church zoning, for a variety of historical and legal reasons, churches tend to be permitted in residential zoning districts. But we also think that the use of temporary signs, or extra signs of any type, should be severely restricted when churches lie within residential zoning districts.
So for a real answer about whether or not this is legal, you need to call your city hall. Report the specific address of this home church and describe the signs it is employing. Ask if there are any restrictions on this type of sign. Typically signs are regulated at the time when a building permit is applied for, but in the case of these signs not mounted to anything, there really is no way for zoning enforcement or code enforcement officials to know about these signs except for neighbor complaints or their own driving around the neighborhoods.
So if this is a violation of municipal law, your city hall might not even know it is occurring, especially if the church only deploys the sail signs on Sundays when code enforcement employees aren't working.
If your municipality allows online submittal of complaints, that can be an opportunity for you to attach a photo of the offending sail sign too.
If you find out that this behavior is not illegal, that could be a good reason for you and your neighbors to suggest to city hall that maybe it should be illegal.
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