Illegal Signs, Removal and Fines

The Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) regulates signs within MDOT SHA rights of way, as well as outdoor advertising signs on private property adjacent to State roads, according to federal and State laws.

Regulated signs include official traffic safety signs and informational signs that are placed/maintained by MDOT SHA and those authorized by MDOT SHA, according to those federal and State regulations.

Signs placed on State rights of way that do not fall under those categories are illegal. In 2011, a State law authorized MDOT SHA, law enforcement officers, and local governments to remove illegal signs and issue fines to businesses and individuals who place such signs.

What is the law about unauthorized commercial signs?

Commercial signs placed within State highway rights of way have been illegal for decades, but there was little incentive to comply with the law since there were no repercussions. In the past State crews removed signs at taxpayer cost. The law that took effect October 1, 2011 makes placing an illegal sign a civil penalty not to exceed $25 per sign. 

This law also allows counties and municipalities in which the sign is located to remove signs from State-maintained rights of way and issue the civil penalty.

The sign law is confusing. What should I do to install a sign?

First determine the category of sign you are requesting. There are two types of signs: an “on-premise” sign, which is a sign for a business where the sign will be placed; and an “off-premise” sign, which advertises businesses located elsewhere.

Before you i​nstall or post an outdoor advertising sign adjacent to a MDOT SHA-maintained highway, you must first contact your local government office for approval.  Counties, towns, and cities also have sign regulations and you must obtain a permit from the local government office before receiving MDOT SHA approval.

After approval from your local government, contact the MDOT SHA Outdoor Advertising Section for a sign application or download an application.  MDOT SHA must approve the sign and determine that it complies with federal and State regulations to ensure public safety.

Why do I need a permit?

Federal and State regulations require permits to track the number, use, location, spacing, and maintenance of signs. Permits ensure that signs are properly maintained, removed when appropriate, do not clutter highways, and do not create a safety hazard by obstructing sight distance.

How much do MDOT SHA Sign permits cost?

Price is based on the number of advertising faces.  Current fees are $1 per advertising face. All sign permits must be renewed annually and are due each year by April 30th. Out-of-state applicants must also obtain a $1,000 Surety Bond before sign permits are issued. The numbered MDOT SHA metal permit tag must be displayed on the sign at all times and be visible from the highway.

How long does it take to get a MDOT SHA Sign permit?

About two weeks.

Permit applications require the signature of the applicant, property owner on which the sign will be placed, and local zoning authority. You must also include a comprehensive site plan showing property lines, setbacks from the right of way, proposed location of the sign on the property, State route number and intersecting road, and distances from other sign(s) on the property.

Once this information is received by MDOT SHA, the permit process takes approximately two weeks. The applicant is responsible for securing all local government approvals and surveys.

Do I need an Outdoor Advertising License as well?

Yes. You need a license if you rent, maintain, or install outdoor advertising signs along State highways. Current MDOT SHA license fees range from $50 to $700 and depend on the number of sign structures installed. Out-of-state applicants must also obtain a $1,000 Surety Bond before the license is issued.

Do I need to display the MDOT SHA Sign Permit on my sign?

Yes. MDOT SHA will issue a numbered, metal permit tag that must be displayed on the front of the sign and be visible from the highway at all times. There is a fee if the tag is lost or stolen. The name and address of the owner must be clearly displayed on the sign at all times.

May I install a sign on my own property (on-premise) without an MDOT SHA permit?

Yes. You must still meet certain conditions. The sign must only advertise activities or products available on the property and it must be within 100 feet of the business activity (such as the edge of the building or parking lot).

May I place an off-premise outdoor advertising sign next to an Interstate highway or expressway?

No. State laws prohibit any type of off-premise outdoor advertising signs adjacent to Maryland’s Interstate highways or expressways such as I-70, I-95, and US 50.

May I place an off-premise outdoor advertising sign along a designated Scenic Byway?

No. Since 2011, new off-premise outdoor advertising signs are prohibited along designated Scenic Byways in Maryland. Be sure to contact MDOT SHA for more information.

May I use flashing lights on my sign?

No. Flashing lights are distracting to motorists and are considered a traffic safety hazard.

If I am fined, how do I make payment to MDOT SHA?

Payments by check or money order can be mailed to one of the addresses below:
MDOT State Highway Administration
P.O. Box 1636
Baltimore MD 21203
MDOT State Highway Administration
Office of Finance
707 North Calvert Street
Baltimore MD 21202

You may also pay in person at the Cashier’s Office at MDOT SHA headquarters during normal business hours at 707 North Calvert Street, Baltimore MD 21202.  Unsatisfied accounts are submitted to the State of Maryland’s Central Collection Unit.