"Call before you dig" law affects Realtors

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.

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19 Responses to "Call before you dig" law affects Realtors

  1. Matt Wilkins says:

    I don’t know about other readers on here but I think this will DECREASE the number of for sale signs on properties even further. I know in my market a good number of listings do not have signs now and a move like this will make many listers rethink going through the hoops to install signs especially with many properties starting to end up contract wihtin days (and now just hours).

  2. Brian Block says:

    Ben,
    Thanks for spreading the word. I just taught this to my pre-licensing class last week.

    You may want to also put out the alert that new licensees need to get fingerprinted and have a criminal background check run on them.

  3. Maybe I need another cup of coffee, but this post/issue really puts dirt in my grits. First, Miss Utility is out of control. We should all ignore this and dare them to enforce it. I’ve never heard of a standard real estate sign damaging a utility. This is a solution looking for a problem.

    Second, why is VAR making a big deal about this and putting the fear of god (or at least Miss Utility) in members. We should be working on more important things like developing short sale forms instead of trivial stuff like this. VAR has done a great job of communicating a silly little issue that is unenforceable and unimportant just because some out of control regulator decided they needed to fix a problem that does not exist. I’d rather see this effort be spent on fixing real problems that members need.

    I’m getting off my soapbox and heading to the coffee pot now.

  4. Stuart Bishop says:

    I see the SCC points out that 600 gas lines had been damaged in the past 2 1/2 years. It would be interesting to know how many of the cases were actually caused by a Realtor’s sign if any.

  5. As a service to the members in the Charlottesville area, I am placing a call to Miss Utility to ask that every utility in every county in our market area in every front yard be marked. That should keep them busy enough to stop wasting time creating stupid rules.

  6. Brigitte Powell says:

    You have my vote!! My mouth is still open in disbelieve over this ridiculous rule.
    I guess they have too much time on their hands and are getting paid too much money….Hmmmm????
    Brigitte Powell, GRI

  7. Kevin Bond says:

    I cant believe this, whomever made up this rule just come out of clown class. I wish people would make better use of their time.

  8. Brigitte Powell says:

    I could use some clarification:
    Are they saying that the “utility ticket” is good for 15 days and then we have to do it all over again?

  9. Brigitte Powell says:

    If they should sneak in :-) LOL AFTER I have placed my sign (good only for 15 days) and place a line RIGHT where my sign is, could they not call the number on the sign to let us know they had to move our sign AND ….then while they are there, could they not mark where the sign would be ok :-)
    too much huh?

  10. Jim Duncan says:

    Is anyone really surprised? The state needs revenue, so they’re looking for any way to raise money.

    I wonder if they studied how much each Miss Utility trip is going to cost compared to how much income they might generate from the fines. Somehow I doubt it.

  11. Jeremy Hart says:

    Am glad to see that although I couldn’t comment on it last week when it first came out, that the overall mood of the comments has been in line with my own thoughts on this. This seems to be a knee jerk reaction to a number of concerns on the part of the Commonwealth and Miss Utility, the least of which involve safety of the utility lines.

    Really hoping we can find a revision of some kind on this. If I take a listing on a Wednesday afternoon, and the lines aren’t marked by Friday afternoon close of business, than I have to call again and hope that they’ll be marked by Monday mid-day, at the same time trying to explain to my client why we’re as much as five days removed from signing the listing agreement and I’ve still not placed any sale information in their yard.

  12. Brigitte Powell says:

    Dave, I think we are all curious to hear how many Real Estate Signs were actually responsible for damaging said utiltiy lines in our immediate area, just for s/g.
    Actually, it just hit me!!! This means job security for several people, so how can we object to that? :-)
    The more I think about it the funnier it gets. Where is the news media when there is a really funny story?

  13. I guess if you are putting in a 4×4 post you are making a permanent sign that this home is for sale… And you must think it will be on the market for quite awhile…

    For me and my associates the “step-on” signs work fine and we intend to sell quickly.
    at least that is the plan for most :)

  14. OK, so I see this:
    “For any kind of sign other than the wire “coat-hanger” variety or temporary, free-standing “tent” signs:….”

    Unbelievable!!!

  15. Pingback: Miss Utility Cracks Down on Signs in Virginia | Real Central VA

  16. Cameron Crounse says:

    Does this mean that the owner can walk to the front of their yard and put my sign in the ground with impunity? Did I read this right?

  17. Brigitte Powell says:

    that’s the way I understand it……..but then, am I mistaken when I think they are saying this can be done for 15 days only…..and then we have to do it all over again?

  18. @Cameron, imagine this. You tell the homeowner to put in the sign (because he can). He does, but — yikes! — nicks a gas line. No major damage, but the homeowner gets fined for damaging the line. Who do you think he’s gonna look to sue?

    So yes, homeowners don’t have to call before they “dig,” but they’re still responsible for anything that happens. How much risk are you willing to take?

  19. @Brigitte: Yes, that’s how I understand it too. Maybe that’s how long they think the paint they use will last. :)

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