Skip to main content

In Orange County CA, can I sue a municipality for not allowing me to change signage on a newly purchased commercial building

Irvine, CA |

Building is and has been medical zoned. It already has signage. No structural changes need to be made to the sign, just the face/panel needs to be changed to the new medical practice name that is going to be represented in the building. What is my recourse if the city doesn't allow the change (signage is not inappropriate or gaudy or anything...just a name change)? Doesn't make any sense that a new owner couldn't change the sign to represent his business, but would have to keep the old signage representing a business that doesn't exist there anymore!

Attorney Answers 4


  1. If the city doesn't bite, you may always negotiate.

    In business everything has a price.


  2. You are correct that the facts as you have described do not make sense. I assume that you made an application to the City to change the name on the sign for purposes of this answer. If an application to paint a sign and change the name on a sign is required in the City/County and you have not submitted a formal application, then you need to submit that application.

    There are factors which can impact the statutes and ordinances relating to signage. For example, if you are in a coastal zone area, there are special rules you must follow to obtain a Coastal Development Permit.

    If the City has an ordinance related to signs, there should be an approval on file with the City for the existing sign. You need to get a copy of the approval of the sign and review the specific conditions of approval attached to the signage permit.

    In short, the immediate steps you need to take are:

    1. Obtain the permit for the existing signage from the local jurisdiction;

    2. If applicable determine whether or not the local jurisdiction or the coastal commission have jurisdiction regarding the signage;

    3. Determine whether the local jurisdiction requires a permit to paint and to change the name.

    4. If the answer to number 3 is yes and you have not filed for a permit, then file for the permit.

    Good luck with your signage!

    This response is not legal advice and is based solely on the limited information provided. You should contact an attorney or the Bar Association to get additional information and representation. This response does not create an attorney-client relationship.


  3. If all you are doing is changing the wording on an already existing sign, I don't think you even need to apply for a permit. I would go ahead and make the change and see what happens. Before doing that, check the city's rules on signage to make sure you aren't in any violation.
    If you have already applied and been rejected, there are any number of reasons why the city might do that. More information would be needed to give you a complete answer.


  4. I'm guessing the sign was legal and permitted when installed, but the ordinance was changed to regulate signs more stringently (for instance, to reduce the allowable size of the sign in square feet, or to reduce the number of signs allowable on buildings or even to disallow backlighted plexiglas signs in boxes). Then when the last permittee left, the sign was not "grandfathered" but required to conform to the new ordinance.

    Typically, unlike other, more substantial uses of land, sign ordinances require non-conforming signs to be "amortized" (i.e., depreciated) and removed after X years or when a change in ownership or signage occurs, that is, unlike the principal buildings or uses of land which are "prior, non-conforming uses", they are NOT "grandfathered" and allowed to legally continue.

    I'm guessing your sign doesn't conform to the current ordinance. Talk to the building department or look up the local zoning ordinance (sometimes they are even on the city's website these days). Or apply for a permit, and you should be able to clear up this apparent mystery quickly. Or call a sign company which fabricates and installs signs locally, they probably have a good handle on what the problem might be.

    This answer is provided under the Avvo.com “Terms and Conditions of Use” (“ToU”), particularly ¶9 which states that any information provided is not intended as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship between you and me or any other attorney. Such information is intended for general informational purposes only and should be used only as a starting point for addressing your legal issues. In particular, my answers and those of others are not a substitute for an in-person or telephone consultation with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction about your specific legal issue, and you should not rely solely upon Legal Information you obtain from this website or other resources which may be linked to an answer for informational purposes. You understand that questions and answers or other postings to the Site are not confidential and are not subject to attorney-client privilege. The full Avvo ToU are set forth at http://www.avvo.com/support/terms . In addition, while similar legal principles often apply in many states, I am only licensed to practice in the State of New York and Federal Courts. Any general information I provide about non-New York laws should be checked with an attorney licensed to practice in your State. Lastly, New York State Court rules (22 NYCRR Part 1200, Rule 7.1) also require me to inform you that my answers and attorney profile posted on the Avvo.com site may be considered "attorney advertising" and that "prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome".

State, local, and municipal law topics

Top tips from attorneys

What others are asking

Can't find what you're looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer

Browse all legal topics