This urgent message is being sent to all VAR members by e-mail, but for those of you who are more inclined to read VARbuzz…

(One point of clarification from the e-mail: This isn’t a new law, but enforcement of the law has dramatically increased recently)

You may have heard about Virginia’s Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act: It requires that Realtors® (and others) call the Virginia Utility Protection Service — aka Miss Utility — before putting up any sign that involves sticking something in the dirt, other than "coat hanger" signs.

Even putting up a typical spike sign is considered "excavating," and Realtors® or their sign companies who don’t first get the go-ahead from Miss Utility face up to a $2,500 fine. In fact, the SCC’s Division of Underground Utility and Railroad Safety originally prohibited even those coat-hanger signs; VAR fought for and won at least that concession.

The SCC maintains this is for safety reasons, although the regulation has an exemption: The owner of the property doesn’t need to get permission first.

The SCC points out that utility lines aren’t always buried deep; they can be as little as two inches below the ground. (Only since July 2002 have all lines been required to be installed deeper.) And in the last two and a half years, more than 600 gas lines have been damaged within a foot of the surface.

That’s one reason we agree that Realtors® who are actually excavating — digging a hole for, say, a 4×4 post — should be required to check with Miss Utility for gas or electric lines. But we feel it’s overkill to mandate up to a three-day waiting period to erect a common steel-frame sign or information box, then impose such a steep fine, especially when the homeowner can install one without calling first.

Bottom line:

VAR is continuing to work with the SCC to determine if there is a more reasonable middle ground, and will consider working on legislation if necessary.

Until then, however, you need to be sure to obey the regulations. You can click here to read the full text of the law; here’s a summary:

For any kind of sign other than the wire "coat-hanger" variety or temporary, free-standing "tent" signs:

  • You or the sign installer needs to call Miss Utility of Virginia at 811 or (800) 552-7001 at least 48 hours before installing, excluding weekends and holidays.
  • Once you have called, you need to wait 48 hours starting at 7 a.m. the next working day to give Miss Utility a chance to mark any lines.
  • After 48 hours, if there are no marks, you have to call again, then wait three hours.
  • After those waiting periods, or if you get a call telling you it’s OK to dig, then you can install your sign.

Note that the installation approval — called a "utility ticket" — is only good for 15 working days. If you want to install another sign after 15 days, you need to start the process over in case a utility company snuck in and added a line during that time.

We will keep you informed of our work with the SCC and of any changes to the signage rules.

To learn more about these regulations, right click this link and select “Save target as…” to download a 7 MB Power Point file provided by the SCC.