Landlords check for vulgar signs
Throughout Miami University's off campus housing community there is an array of housing signs displaying upperclassmen personalities, pass downs and creativity. There are classic signs, clever signs and, of course, the signs with sexual innuendos.
Housing signs began in the 1970s, when The Oxford Press came up with a contest for the most creative house names. "Bored of Education," "Hut Hut," and "Fox Den" were three of the very first house names that have been around since the 70s. A stricter jurisdiction on housing signs happened about five years ago, when two houses thoroughly upset the City of Oxford, according to Heather Kacachos, a managing partner at Park Place Real Estate.
"Genital Hospital" complete with a drawing of a naked woman, as well as "Liquor in the Front, Hooker in the Back" were the two houses that caught the City of Oxford's attention. In response, Oxford Officials met with several of Oxford's real estate agencies and changed the Oxford Ordinance to six square feet for a sign, as well as asking for all landlords' word to keep their tenant's signs appropriate, according to Kacachos.
She said if a sign is not blatantly offensive, or someone has to explain it to her, then it is approved. If a sign is deliberately crude, she asks for students to come up with a new idea. She said many students aim to make the destination of their house sound funny.
"We ask our tenants to bring their signs in for approval, and we hang it for them," Kocachos said.
Jung-Han Chen, community development director for the City of Oxford, said the majority of problems concerning housing signs today are their size, not language content. He said the rules are simple: houses may have one wall sign, not illuminated, no more than six square feet and it must be attached to the house between four and 18 feet above the ground.
There is nothing in Oxford's city code concerning language.
However, both the Miami Police Department and Oxford Police Department work together to keep an eye out for vulgar language by monitoring off campus areas, according to Chen. The City of Oxford cannot team up with the police departments because they regulate the size and location, and language of signs is not under their jurisdiction. If a sign is questionably inappropriate, the City of Oxford can ask the Oxford Police Department to take a look at it. Students are not required to have their signs "approved" by the City of Oxford. If it is seen by a police officer, Oxford resident, or someone passing by that takes offense, they may contact the City of Oxford to request the sign be taken down.
There is no fine that comes with a removal request but rather a letter asking the sign be taken down. Chen said the City of Oxford has never issued citations because students react quickly to a request.
This draws the question of whether students' First Amendment of free speech is being violated. According to Howard Kleiman, a communications professor, there's a fine line between the city and the landlord asking residents to take their signs down.
"As a renter, you don't have control over the entire property," Kleiman said. "If a landlord asks you to take your sign down, that's not under the First Amendment because he's not government. However, if the City of Oxford asks a sign be taken down, that's a different story."
"Given the history of this town, I would think a sharp landlord would put something in the lease," Kleiman said.
Sophomore Tyler Springhetti, a junior living in an unnamed off campus house, said his housemates had trouble coming up with a name.
"It's frustrating to have limitations on housing signs in a college town, but at the same time I understand that it's not only college residents who live in Oxford," Springhetti said. "It's about respect for the whole community."
Lynn Taylor, City of Oxford admnistrative assistant, said housing signs it's not a prominent issue that Oxford has to worry about.
"[Housing signs] haven't been a huge issue," Taylor said. "There have been times where maybe a sign has had inappropriate language or pictures. Most kids come in and ask first."
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