Development Services issues permits for most signs, awnings, and banners on private property. Permits are also required for portable signs (A-Boards) on private property and on the sidewalk.
For signs in the street right-of-way (except A-boards) and signs on utility poles, contact Transportation.
Some signs are regulated by the sign code, but are exempt from permit or registration requirements.
Sign permit application, important forms and helpful information
Step 1: Research sign permits requirements by type of sign
You need a permit to install permanent signs on private property. You also need a permit to structurally alter or relocate existing signs on private property.
Electrical components within a sign (such as internal or neon lighting) are covered by the sign permit. You need an electrical permit to connect to a circuit or for signs that have indirect lighting (wall washing or backlit).
Permanent sign types include freestanding, monument projecting, painted or adhered, wall or fascia awnings, signs on awnings and marquees. Signs are regulated by size (total area), height, placement, construction and wiring.
Codes and rules
- Portland City Code Title 32 Sign Code
- Oregon Structural Specialty Code (OSSC)
- Oregon Electrical Specialty Code (OESC)
Not all signs need a permit. Section 32.62.010.A of the sign code has a listing of signs that are exempt from permits or registration.
Section 32.32.010: sign standards in the residential and open space zones
Section 32.32.020: sign standards in the commercial, employment and industrial zones.
Other codes may apply based on the scope of work. Building Codes, Rules & Guides has links to the codes and administrative rules, code and program guides.
Sign permits for awnings
You need a sign permit to install a new awning, add to an existing awning, or structurally alter or relocate an existing awning on property. Lighting for awnings requires a separate electrical permit. Private awnings may project from buildings into the right-of-way. Awning must follow pedestrian clearance and right-of-way extension standards.
Section 32.52 has more information.
Temporary sign permits for temporary banners and balloon registration
You need a temporary sign permit to hang temporary banners and for temporary balloon signs on private property. There is also a registration fee. Smaller banners (32 square feet and under) are exempt from both permit and registration requirements. Banners hung in the street right-of-ways are regulated by Transportation.
Section 32.32.030 K has more information.
Portable sign (also called A-boards or sandwich boards) registration
All portable signs whether located on private property or in street right-of-way need a permit. There is also a registration fee.
Temporary fascia/wall sign and temporary freestanding sign registration
Temporary signs displayed for more than one year need a Temporary sign permit.
Section 32.32.030 K has more information.
Step 2: What you need for a sign permit (application standards)
You must have a sign permit before installing a sign or awning. Any work done without a permit is subject to a citation of violation and a fine. Both the person installing a sign without a permit and the property owner can be found in violation of the code.
You need a separate permit application for each sign or awning.
All plans and drawings must be complete and drawn to scale. Line quality and contrast must be easily read and reproduced in black and white. Plans must be large enough page size to provide enough clear area for City comments and stamps. Photo and color drawings will only be used as reference materials and not for review.
The requirements for alteration to an existing sign are the same as for a new sign. If the expansion of the new sign is 10% or less than the size/area of the existing permitted sign, you do not need new structural drawings or calculations.
When a sign includes lighting or other electrical components the party doing the work must be an electrician licensed by the State of Oregon.
Application requirements for a sign or awning permit
Show the sign and a listing of existing exterior signs, including:
- All details and dimensions of the sign
- Type of material and all dimensions of supports and footings
- Clearance above ground
- Distance of any projection over the right-of-way
- If the sign will be attached to a building: Show the building roof line for the wall on which the sign will be mounted
- Type of lighting
Sign area calculations
Show allowed, existing and proposed sign area
Site plan for sign permit
Site plan should include:
- Site address
- Sign contractor’s name
- Property lines and lengths along street(s)
- Building footprint
- Lengths of building walls:
- that face a public street and have a public entrance or
- tenant space without street frontage, but with a public entrance facing a parking area
- Public entrance(s) to each building
- Name(s) of abutting street(s)
- If the sign is to be located within 15' of a street corner or driveway, distance between sign and corner or driveway. Distance is measured from the street curb on a corner and from the driveway throat on a driveway. This is not required for sign alterations if the size or location of the sign is not changing.
- Parking areas and driveways. This is not required for sign alterations.
- Locations and dimensions of existing and proposed signs.
- Note if existing signs are freestanding and which signs project over the right-of-way.
- North arrow
Structural design drawings; and structural calculations (if applicable) for sign permits
- Drawings and Calculations. Drawings and calculations must be prepared by an engineer registered in Oregon. Drawings must include:
- Construction of the sign (e.g, plastic, light gauge steel)
- Foundations for freestanding signs
- Methods of attachments to the building or structure
- If you are attaching the sign or awning to a building, the drawings must show that the building members can support the loads of the sign and sign structure or awning and awning structure.
Step 3: Apply for a sign permit
Applications may be uploaded online or dropped off in person. One (1) Sign/awning permit application per sign.
To upload your sign permit application and plans, send us an email with the address and project description.
If you can only provide paper plans, send us an email to make an appointment. Please note:
- Need two copies of all plans and calculations
- Paper plans must be on a minimum 8 1/2 x 11 size substantial paper with ample blank space for city stamps and comments.
- Minimum font size is 12pt.
- Plans should be in black and white without color.
A-Board, Temporary and Banner Signs
Mail application with payment to Bureau of Development Services. Check should be payable to City of Portland. You can also email us your application and we'll contact you for payment. For questions about A-board/Temporary/Banner signs, please contact Portable Signs.
Step 4: Sign permit review
Development Services will check that the proposed sign or awning meets the Sign Code standards. They will check against the applicable rules for the zoning and use of the proposed sign location. They will also determine if more reviews are needed. For example, there may be additional land use or structural standards.
If the proposed sign or awning has met all requirements and does not need additional review, the permit can be issued. The applicant will be notified of the permit fees due and how to pay. Once the fees are paid, the permit is issued.
When the proposal requires a land use review or structural review, these reviews must be completed before the permit will be issued. These reviews need more review time.
Land use review required
If a land use sign standard is not met, the proposed sign or drawing may need land use review before approval. These reviews apply only to the standards contained in Chapters 32.30 through 32.38. Not all standards are adjustable. Depending on the zoning at the site, signs and awnings may be subject to other regulations. For example, a Design overlay or Plan District may have additional requirements. Changing an existing sign that does not meet the current land use sign standards needs a special review.
Land use review fees are paid along with the land use review application.
If the proposal receives an approval from land use, the applicant records the decision with the County recorder. Include a copy of the recorded decision with the sign permit application and plans.
Land Use Review staff will review the sign permit application for compliance with the land use review decision.
If the proposed sign or awning meets all requirements, the permit is approved to issue. The applicant will be notified of the permit fees due and how to pay. Once you pay the fees, the approved permit is issued.
Contact Planning & Zoning for questions about land use reviews.
Structural review required
Structural Engineering reviews the permit drawings and calculations when structural review is needed. When the structural review is complete and the proposal approved, staff will notify the applicant. All signs need structural review except if painted, adhered or flush mounted (with no air or water access behind the sign).
A structural engineer checks the structural design for compliance with the Oregon Structural Specialty Code (OSSC). All exterior signs must be able to resist the minimum wind and snow loads as required by the code. All signs must be able to resist minimum vertical (dead and seismic) loads as required by the code.
Contact Structural Engineering for questions about their review process.
Step 5: Get your sign permit
Once all reviews are complete and approved, the permit will go through pre-issuance, the final quality check. Once complete, the permit is ready for issuance. The approved permit is issued when the fees are paid.
Step 6: Start the work and get ready for inspection
All sign and awning permits need an inspection. Call for inspections at the following points in the project:
- Before pouring footings for freestanding signs
- After installing wall anchors for fascia or projecting signs, but before the sign is attached
- When the project is completed
Additional inspections may be required due to the complexity of the project.
The inspection codes for sign and awning permits:
- 400 - Sign footings
- 405 - Electrical service - sign
- 410 - Sign structure
- 999 - Final permit
Complex signs (as defined in the Oregon Structural Specialty Code) need a special inspection. The structural engineer lets the applicant know if the sign needs a special inspection as part of the review process. When a special inspection is required, it must be performed by a City of Portland certified testing agency. For more information about special inspections check out the related webpage.
Additional information and definitions
Overview of 32.22.020.YY. Sign.
Materials placed or constructed, or light projected, that (1) conveys a message or image and (2) is used to inform or attract the attention of the public. Some examples of ‘signs’ are materials or lights meeting the definition of the preceding sentence and which are commonly referred to as signs, placards, A-boards, posters, billboards, murals, diagrams, banners, flags, or projected slides, images or holograms. The scope of the term ‘sign’ does not depend on the content of the message or image conveyed.
This does include text on awnings, exterior vinyl, placards, or painted imagery.
Overview of 32.22.020.NN. Primary building walls.
Any exterior building wall that faces a street and contains a public entrance to the occupant's premises or tenant space. If an individual tenant space does not have a street facing wall or does not have a street facing wall containing a public entrance, then the primary building wall for that individual tenant space is any wall containing a public entrance that faces a parking area on the site. See Figure 1.
Figure 1: Primary and secondary building walls
Additional information: allowable signs and examples
Allowable signage is based upon a ratio of either 1 sq. ft. per 1 ft. of primary building wall or 1.5 sq. ft. per 1 ft. of primary building wall depending on if there is a freestanding sign on the same street frontage. If the existing signage at site is over the allowable a Land Use Review will be required for the additional signage.
Scenario 1: Proposal is for a 50 sq. ft. blade sign on East Elevation Way. There is a freestanding sign located on that street frontage and the primary building wall is 40 feet.
Primary building wall = 40’ linear feet
Allowable signage = 40 sq. ft.
Proposal = 50 sq. ft.
In this case that is 10 sq. ft. over the allowable (40 minus 50 equals negative 10). The sign will need to be reduced or a Land Use decision is required.
Scenario 2: Proposal is for a 32 sq. ft. fascia sign on an existing tenant space. There is no freestanding sign at site and the primary building wall 40 feet. There is an existing 32 sq ft. blade sign.
Primary building wall = 40’ linear feet
Allowable signage = 60 sq. ft.
Existing signage = 32 sq. ft.
Proposal = 32 sq. ft.
Total = 64 sq. ft.
In this case that is 4 sq. ft. over the allowable signage (60 minus 64 equals negative 4).
Using tenant space signage for the landlord
That is on a case by case basis as it is dependent on the location of the primary building and secondary building walls at the site. Most times the answer is no based upon site conditions, but it is up to the applicant to provide the information for City staff to review. Please refer to 32.32.030.E.
Changing image signs
Any sign that, through the use of moving structural elements, flashing or sequential lights, lighting elements, or other automated method, results in movement, the appearance of movement or change of sign image or message. Changing image signs do not include otherwise static signs where illumination is turned off and back on not more than once every 24 hours.
When signs are constructed of individual elements attached to a building wall, the sign area is determined by calculating the area of an imaginary rectangle drawn around the sign elements. See Figure 2. Sign elements will be measured as one unit when the distance between the elements is less than two times the dimension of each element.
For more information
- For signs, awnings and banners located on private property, contact Sign Permit Information. For complex permits or locations you can also schedule a 15-minute appointment.
- For questions about portable (A-Board) signs only, contact Portable Signs.
- For questions about design review, contact Planning & Zoning.
- For questions about structural review, contact Structural Engineering.