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Yard sale signs can be illegal; Owner must give OK for use on either public, private property.

Byline: Elaine Thompson

The annual fall yard sale is so all-American that for most people who attend them they mean a fun-filled bargain-shopping affair. .

But what many who have yard sales may not know is that advertising them, or other events, on utility poles, public property or another person's property is illegal, as well as a messy nuisance.

A state law, section 126 of Chapter 266 of Massachusetts General Laws, makes it a crime to paint or affix "any words, device, trade mark, advertisement or notice" onto any "fence, structure, pole, rock or other object" on either public or private property without permission of the owner. Violations are punishable by fines of up to $100.

Nicola Tortis, Southbridge's director of inspections, said he doesn't have a problem with people advertising yard sales on utility poles and the like. He just wishes they would take the signs down after the event before they become litter. He has removed nearly 100 yard sale signs during the past two months. Signs left on telephone poles after the event technically become litter or illegally disposed trash, he said. Each violation carries a $200 fine.

"They fall off the pole, cover catch basins, blow around in people's yards," he said. "But, what really irritates the hell out of me the most is when they nail them to a tree in the downtown area. When you poke holes in a tree, you effectively wound it. It can affect the growth of the tree."

Many communities require people to post signs only on the property were the sale or event is held. While some have fines for violators, enforcement is a low priority.

"We've had a 16 percent (employee) reduction in the last six months. We went from 70 to 59 employees. Obviously, we have to prioritize what's important," said Joseph R. Mikielian, commissioner of inspectional services for Worcester. "We haven't had a lot of complaints about yard sales."

Shrewsbury's bylaw restricts all types of signs to the advertiser's property, but officials don't make a fuss if people remove signs placed elsewhere promptly after the event. Any old signs, particularly on the town Common, are removed by town workers on Monday and Tuesday. And a letter is sent asking the offender to comply in the future.

"Our bylaw has been on the books since the late '70s or early '80s when yard sales evolved, but we choose not to enforce it," said Town Manager Daniel J. Morgado. "We really ask people to use their best community sense, what they want their community to look like. If everyone put a yard sale sign on every pole in town on every weekend, you can imagine what that would look like."

Marlboro officials make a significant effort to try to enforce the sign ordinance. The addresses on signs are kept in a database. The homeowner or advertiser is sent a notice to remove the sign within 48 hours. Violators can be fined between $50 and $300 per day per sign. Some who have been fined are owners of portable "we buy houses" signs. A Texas home foreclosure auction company that posted signs on utility poles throughout the city had to pay a $1,600 fine.

Pamela A. Wilderman, Marlboro's code enforcement officer, often removes signs when she's out walking her dog.

"I think the part that irritates me is, what would possess you to think it's OK to nail or tape, really, in a lot of cases, crappy-looking signs to property that doesn't belong to you? If you want to have a yard sale, put a sign in your yard, run an ad in the paper or post it on a Web site," Ms. Wilderman said.

David Graves, a spokesman for National Grid, said his workers are directed to remove signs on poles when they are working. Nails and other sharp items on poles can injure workers, he said.

At the busy intersection of Farm Road and Broadmeadow Street in Marlboro last week there were three signs attached to a utility pole and a fourth sign, for a yard sale held Sept. 3, was on the ground near it. The signs on the pole advertised a yard sale at the local VFW on Sept. 5, a moving sale at 70 Helen Drive on Oct. 3 and a reggae band at Firefly's Restaurant, also Oct. 3. Representatives of all three locations said they were not responsible for the posted signs.

Patricia Branscombe, who has lived at 70 Helen Drive for 31 years, said she was not aware that attaching yard sale signs to utility poles is prohibited in Marlboro. She said she was not sure why the sign and another one on a pole a few hundred yards away were still up five days after her sale.

"It was my yard sale. But I'm not the one that put them up and I'd rather not say who did," she said.

Many communities, including Worcester, Auburn, Westboro and Southbridge, limit the number of yard sales a homeowner can have each year. It ranges from two in Westboro to four in Auburn.

Auburn Town Clerk Ellen C. Gaboury said she began informing people who come in to purchase a $1 yard sale permit about the sign restriction about two weeks ago, after selectmen received numerous complaints about the unsightliness of old yard sale signs, "lost cat" signs and other postings that are left on poles for weeks. People are surprised that there is such a rule.

"They say, `Really.? Oh, I didn't know that. What am I going to do now?'" she said. "I can't give them any advice. It is what it is."

Mr. Tortis, director of inspections in Southbridge, said Town Manager Christopher Clark announced at a recent televised Town Council meeting that signs should be removed the same day the sale is held. He said he plans to ask the Planning Board to establish a small fee-based permit system for yard sales that includes a charge of $2 for each sign erected.

"And, if you remove the signs, I'll give your money back. If you don't remove them, I'm going to keep your money and I'm going to send you a fine," he said. "If they put up 10 signs, that's $20. They're going to take them down because they'll want that money back."


CUTLINE: (1) Nicola Tortis, who is in charge of Southbridge inspection services, has collected more than 100 yard sale signs from utility poles and trees in Southbridge. (2) Signs for yard sales and other activities are posted at the intersection of Broadmeadow Street and Farm Road in Marlboro.

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 12, 2009
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