Surf City Property Owners Want Council to Reconsider Ban on For-Rent Lawn Signs

By GINA G. SCALA | May 15, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Surf City — Sign, sign, everywhere a sign/ Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind; Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

In the near half-century since Five Man Electrical Band first released “Signs” on its second album, the lyrics remain relevant. Perhaps, never more so than now with lawn signs dotting the landscape of properties in nearly every local community.

It’s those signs, or at least some of those signs, the Surf City Borough Council targeted last summer when it amended its sign ordinance. Ordinance 2018-10 specifically amends signs in the RA residential zone and the RAA residential zone, which is comprised of all land situated in the Lazy Point area west of Shore Avenue.

“On improved, unimproved, or vacant plots, one real estate sign not over four and one-half square feet in area, bearing a sale message exhibited thereon by the owner of the plot or by a real estate broker; it being the express intention to permit no more than one such sign to be exhibited on the plot at any time,” according to the measure. “All ordinances or parts of ordinances inconsistent herewith are repealed to the extent of such inconsistency.”

Under New Jersey land use law, if something isn’t expressly permitted then it’s prohibited. Lawn sides advertising for rent, landscapers, power washers, plumbers, painters, electricians and just about any other service are not expressly named in the ordinance. Signs, including but not limited to plumbers, electricians, painters and landscapers, are allowed while work is performed at a residential property.

On May 7, property owners filled the municipal meeting room to address the council on the exclusion of “for rent” from the amended ordinance nearly a year after it went into effect.

Michael Mayo, the first of several property owners to address the council, wanted to know what drove borough officials to remove the words “for rent” from the ordinance.

Mayor Frances Hodgson said for rent signs were becoming pervasive and emphasized the ordinance also pertains to landscaping, painting, power washing and other services.

“We had to limit it,” Hodgson said, noting the backroom of his own real estate agency, Island Realty, is filled with for rent signs that can no longer be used in Surf City. “They (for rent signs) can be put in the window.”

Several members of the audience, including Duane Watlington, founder of Vacation Rentals Jersey Shore LLC, said window signs are not visible from the road. In his discussion with the council, Watlington said some of his clients have lost out on summer rentals for the upcoming season because of the ban on for-rent signs.

“We’re getting kicked in the teeth because of the occupancy tax and now the signs,” Watlington said of the transient accommodations sales tax that went into effective Oct. 1, 2018. The law, which currently includes private homeowners who rent rooms for fewer than 90 days, levies a tax total of 11.6 percent. Of that, 5 percent is a state occupancy tax fee and the remaining 6.625 percent is sales tax.

Watlington was the first in a series of property owners to ask the council to reconsider the ban on rental signs, saying it’s a disservice to the tourism industry. For rent signs, he said, are often the only way renters know that a property is available.

Councilman William Hodgson disagreed, noting in his experience more and more renters are finding lodging through online sites.

“It’s advertising the business more than it is the house. The only people driving up and down looking for rentals are groups of kids who wouldn’t get it (a rental) any other way,” the councilman said. “I remember a time when we had to have 10 agents in the office because there was a line of people who wanted to see summer rentals.”

He went on to say there was a least one property with two Vacation Rentals LBI (VRLBI) signs in the front yard.

“It’s starting to look like Coney Island,” the councilman said

Gary Brubaker, who already placed his for rent sign in a window, said his rental property is typically rented from mid-May through the middle of September, but this year his rentals have been impacted by both the occupancy tax and the sign ban.

“I still have three weeks available,” Brubaker said. “I don’t know why you can’t permit one for-rent sign (per property).”

Other alternatives to the all-out ban on for rent lawn signs included requiring a permit for lawn signs as well as setting a start and end date each year for when lawn signs are permitted, much like the system the county uses for traffic signals on the Island.

“Signs are everywhere,” the mayor said. “We can’t go all helter-skelter, then we will get blamed.”

Still, property owners want to know why individuals who lodge formal complaints about too many for rent signs should have more say than those bringing tourism to the resort community.

“You represent all of us,” Roger Pearly, who owns a property on 15th Street in the borough, said. The intention was to retire to there, but the additional income from summer rentals helps offset the cost of the house.

For now, the sign ban will remain as is with a second wave of letters reminding property owners of the ordinance change expected to go out before the peak summer season. Signs not impacted by the ordinance include holiday and political signs, or temporary signs for an event such as a yard sale.

“We won’t touch them,” the mayor said of holiday and political signs.

— Gina G. Scala


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