Planning to Erect a Business Sign? Be Sure to Hire a Licensed Sign Contractor

October 31, 2011

So you’ve decided to start a business. You have the product or service ready to present to the public, you’ve chosen your location, you’ve signed the lease, and you have your business cards ordered. What comes next? You need a sign. An attractive sign is the key to letting potential customers know where you are and what your business is about. Many business owners are unlikely to understand or appreciate that there are laws that govern signs and the people who design and construct them.

Before any sign can be designed or constructed, the first and most important step is to hire a licensed sign contractor. The State of California requires that all signs be constructed and installed by a licensed contractor who holds a valid C-45 license. Specialty licenses are identified by the prefix “C,” and a C-45 license indicates that the person or company holding that license has demonstrated a history of training and experience in the design and construction of electrical and non-electrical signs to be placed or mounted on structures and/or poles.

Ordinances that apply to signs include signs that are made of wood, metal, vinyl, or other materials—whether mounted on the front of a building, encased in a free-standing wood or stone surround, painted on a wall, or suspended from a rooftop eave. It also includes what are commonly known as “A-frame” or sandwich board signs.

Two other categories of specialty licenses are allowed, within specific restrictions, to create and/or install signs: C10: electrical contractors, who are allowed to install electrical signs, but not fabricate them; and D42: non-electrical sign contractors, who are allowed to fabricate and install non-electrical signs.

So what is the advantage of hiring a licensed sign contractor?

First of all, the State of California has an interest in restricting sign fabrication and installation to licensed sign contractors. A licensed sign contractor is required to know and comply with the ordinances and restrictions of the local municipality where the sign will be installed, including securing a permit for the sign as well as complying with all ordinances. In addition, they are required to maintain a surety bond which guarantees several things, such as if a sign contractor fails to do something correctly and they are under a contract, the individual purchasing the sign can approach the bonding company for compensation. Finally, many sign contractors carry additional liability insurance in the event that the sign which they designed, constructed and installed causes bodily and/or property damage. They will also carry workers’ compensation insurance if they have employees. Should an issue of public safety or property liability arise, the State of California has reserved specific claims which can be used against licensed sign contractors.

Although most municipalities will allow a business owner to secure the sign permit on their own, thereby serving as their own contractor, the business owner is thereafter required to comply with and be subject to all of the same legal requirements that the licensed sign contractor must abide by. This means that a business owner will be liable for any damages caused by a sign built by a party who is not licensed to design and construct signs. In addition, the business owner is required to maintain workers’ compensation coverage for anyone hired to install the sign, including the unlicensed sign builder. Further, utilizing an unlicensed sign contractor means that they will likely be long gone in the event of a problem, taking your money and peace of mind with them.

The next installment of this column will discuss the recent proposed changes to the Town of Truckee Development Code in regard to sign codes.

Attorney Glen Van Dyke and his firm, Van Dyke Law Group has offices in Truckee, Eldorado Hills, San Francisco and Las Vegas. He has represented thousands of residential and commercial property owners and homeowners’ associations in the resolution of disputes over the construction of their homes or buildings. Property owners who have questions about possible legal issues concerning licensed contractors and designers in both California and Nevada can call 877-868-7013 for more information.

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