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Harris County has sued a homebuilder over advertising signs placed along public rights of way, the first time the county has tried to enforce the state's new bandit sign law.
Espree Homes and Royce Builders, owned by Hammersmith Group, placed two large permanent signs and 10 smaller signs on public rights of way on Grant Road and Grants Trace Trail in northwest Harris County, County Attorney Mike Stafford said last week.
"These types of signs are everywhere. If you head out in more suburban areas, you'll see 50 subdivision signs in a row," he said. "The new law is a beautification measure. And we're happy to enforce it."
Royce Builders and Espree Homes did not return repeated calls last week.
It is illegal to place signs in public rights of way. A law passed by the Texas Legislature last year gives counties the authority to assess a civil penalty ranging from $500 to $1,000 per violation. Counties can sue to collect the fines.
Margaret Lloyd, policy director of Houston-based Scenic Texas, a nonprofit that works to protect the visual landscape, said her group sought the legislative change because companies paid no consequences for hiring others to erect signs.
"It doesn't need to look like the Yellow Pages when you are driving down the road," she said. "What happens is, if businesses do it, everybody else thinks they can do it. People put up signs for garage sales. It's a spiraling effect."
Bandit signs long have been a problem in the city, as well. The city has workers who regularly drive Houston's streets, pulling up and taking down illegally placed signs.
"We've seen an increase in bandit signs over the years and don't see any signs of it getting better," Department of Public Works spokesman Wes Johnson said.
From July 1 through Dec. 31 of last year, the city removed more than 66,000 bandit signs from its rights of way, he said. During the same period, the city issued 126 citations to sign owners, seeking fines of $300 to $500.