Seattle Sues To Get Rid Of Wall Billboards

Jan 27, 2014

Seattle is suing Total Outdoor, a national advertising company, over the giant ads the company puts on the sides of buildings in the city. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes says the signs are a flagrant violation of a long-standing Seattle ordinance meant to limit billboards in the city.

You’ve no doubt seen them in Seattle: wall ads six stories tall, promoting everything from the iPhone 5c to JoeTV.  They've been around for years. But the city attorney seems to be on a mission to get rid of them. He's suing four building owners and Total Outdoor.

"The law is clear. Total Outdoor and its partners have hauled in money by violating the law. It's long past time for them to stop," Holmes said in a press release.

More than a decade ago, the city passed a sign ordinance, Seattle Municipal Code 23.84A.036, as part of a “beautify Seattle” effort to reduce visual blight. They limited signs on buildings to ones that actually promote the business located there.

So, for example, you could use the outdoor wall space to advertise apartments for rent in the building or promote a restaurant on the ground floor. But, the city attorney contends, the building owners  have gone way beyond that, essentially using a national ad firm to market the space to corporate clients. 

Total Outdoor markets what it calls wallscape ads, according to its website.

Late on Monday, Jan. 27, Total Outdoor released a statement saying it was prepared to work cooperatively with the city in order to "resolve issues they may have with these four signs."

The Total Outdoor statement also said:

"It is important to note that since all four sign locations are legally permitted by the city, it appears these lawsuits against private property owners and Total Outdoor are about the content of the signs. If the city has received complaints about these signs,m it would be normal practice to initiate code enforcement procedures they could have utilized to inform us of their concerns before pursuing litigation. We find it curious that the timing of this press release and legal action so closely corresponds with the City Council's current consideration of Council Bill 117991, which proposes to significantly restrict the size and content of "on premise" signs, which are signs used by businesses and property owners to identify their businesses and/or advertise their products or services."