JOHNSTON, Iowa — You may be showing support for some presidential or school board candidates in your yard, but it turns out those yard signs can’t be placed just anywhere. There’s actually a right and a wrong way to place them throughout most Des Moines metro cities.
It’s not just political signs, but garage sale signs, real estate signs, or just school pride signs. It doesn’t matter. Most cities in the metro have ordinances restricting the placement of these temporary signs.
Towns like Des Moines, Johnston, West Des Moines, Waukee, Ankeny, and Clive all have codes saying temporary signs must be placed on a resident’s private property and not on the city’s right of way. The right of way is the area of grass between the sidewalk and the curb or a grass median.
There are a few reasons for these codes. Community development director for the city of Johnston, David Wilwerding, said it’s not only to make sure their community looks nice and clean, but also for safety concerns.
“It is public property and it can also impact vision,” Wilwerding said. “If you’re pulling up to an intersection and there’s a bunch of signs there it can cause a problem. That area is just kind of considered a clear area where we wouldn’t have any signs or other distractions for drivers. Those signs should be located behind the sidewalk to avoid that problem.”
The city of Johnston actually posted to their Facebook page last week showing multiple examples of yard signs put up around town, and to many of the residents’ surprise, most of them were illegally placed.
“It’s more about the topical reminder. It’s one of those things as we go into garage sale season and election season we tend to see more signs pop up and it’s just really a reminder as you put these signs out you’re perfectly fine to do it, just make sure they are located in the right spot,” Wilwerding said.
Some cities in the metro actually have a code enforcer whose job includes looking for illegal signs. For Johnston, Wilwerding said they are never actively looking, but if there is a sign spotted around town that’s not properly placed, they will take it and it can be redeemed at the city hall.
Some cities’ zoning codes, like Des Moines and Waukee, mention political signs specifically saying they must be removed after the election is over. SuAnn Donovan with the city of Des Moines says they do not enforce that part of the ordinance because of freedom of speech.
None of the cities have any sort of fine for improper placement.
Click here to see Johnston’s full city ordinance.