Fines for Signs: The Cost of Advertising in NYC

The New York Times wrote this week about a small store owner in New York who was visited by the Department of Buildings and received a citation for an unlicensed sign that will result in a $6,000 fine.

It appears that complaints about outdoor signs have sharply raised in NY. Brooklyn accounted for more than half of the approximately 1,900 total complaints about signs, more than double the usual number. In Queens, the complaints have also more than doubled since the previous year, and there was a smaller increase in the Bronx, according to the statistics of the Department of Buildings. The department required by law to check out any complaints about signs to ensure that the signs will not fall, block a fire escape or present some other safety hazard.


What do the regulations say?

  • Signs that are painted or smaller than six square feet and not illuminated do not require a permit, but they must comply with the local zoning regulations for signs.
  • Signs greater than six square feet in total area must be approved by the Department of Buildings (DOB), and comply with the local zoning regulations for signs.
  • A registered architect, licensed engineer, or in some instances, a licensed sign hanger, must submit plans.
  • Permit fees are based on the percentage of the estimated cost of the job.


For installing a sign you need

  • Construction permit (required to be submitted in DOB NOW: Build.
  • Electrical Permit (filed by a licensed electrician)
  • Illuminated Sign Permit (must be renewed annually)
  • Hanging a Sign (by a Licensed Sign Hanger)

Avoiding the $6,000 fine requires quite a lot of investments. In the words of a reader who goes by “NYC LES”, who wrote in the comment section on the article:I’m a small business owner and I spent several thousands of dollars to hang my sign legally. $1500 for a permit, 5k for a licensed sign hanger plus a licensed electrician, and an architect to draw the plans.”

Stay in compliance: some other fines for small businesses in NYC



Violation Fee

Post waste hauler’s decal and schedule on your window, and keep a copy of its contract on site. Set out trash (black bags or covered bins) recyclables (bundles, covered bins, or clear plastic bags) within 2 hours of a daytime pickup, or within 1 hour of your closing for nighttime pickup.

$100 – $300

Fire extinguishers must be annually serviced by an FDNY certified company and monthly visual checks should be performed by you. Sprinklers and standpipes require inspections and testing. For commercial kitchens, duct and hood systems must be maintained at least every 90 days by an FDNY certified company.

$600 – $1,000

Clean your sidewalk and the first 1.5 feet into the street.

$100 – $300

Keep sidewalks clear of items

$100 – $300

Show prices – post prices for each item you sell or service you provide.

$25 – $250 (Product)

$50 – $500 (Service)

Show payment and refund policies

$50 – $500

Receipts must show your business name and address, items and prices, subtotal, tax, the total amount paid, date of purchase etc.

$50 – $500

If you serve food or drinks: clean floors, walls, and ceilings.


Remove pests and pest-friendly conditions – repair holes in walls or ductwork, and keep trash cans covered.

$200 – $350

Keep prepared food at the correct temperature or for a limited time before serving.

$250 – $600

If you have a boiler or hot-water heater, or equipment like dry-cleaning machines that cause emissions, you need an up-to-date credential.

$350 – $875

If you use chemicals or substances that could get into the public water supply, you need to have a licensed contractor install and annually test all backflow preventers at your water service lines. Many kitchens, doctors’ offices, and manufacturers must have them.

$500 – $1,000

To store or handle hazardous materials, you need an up-to-date certificate of fitness and your business needs a permit from FDNY.

$750 – $1,000





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