Protecting and advancing the interests of the Outdoor Advertising Industry.


Every day in Wisconsin one or another community considers a new sign ordinance or is ready to revise an old ordinance which regulates signs. Every so often we hear that a community is considering including an “amortization clause” in its ordinance.

What is amortization?

The goal of amortization is to require business owners to upgrade their signs to comply with a new, more restrictive ordinance. The community decides to “amortize” those signs which do not meet the new requirements. Rather than allowing a business sign to be “grandfathered” as a legal, nonconforming sign, the community will give the sign owner another seven years, or 10 years, or some other number of years to use the existing sign. But after the amortization period has run out, the old sign must be taken down and only a new one which complies with the ordinance can be erected.

Amortization is an attempt by a municipality to escape paying just compensation for signs, or other nonconforming uses, fixtures, structures, or buildings.

Amortization Ordinances are Illegal in Wisconsin

Amortization ordinances became illegal in Wisconsin on January 6, 2006 when 2005 Wisconsin Act 81 became law. Click here for a copy of the law.

Arguments Against Amortization

If someone suggests an amortization clause for a sign ordinance in your community, please keep the following in mind:

  • Your municipality will be violating state law. An amortization ordinance is prohibited by the Wisconsin State Statutes.
  • The City of Appleton’s ordinance was challenged as unconstitutional in 1986. The City ordinance was tossed out by the court because it “permits a taking of private property without just compensation and is therefore invalid under Article I, Section 13 of the Wisconsin Constitution.”
  • In the Federal Highway Beautification Act (HBA) which regulates billboards, the law requires that government pay just compensation for the removal of all billboards. The Wisconsin Statutes mirror the HBA and include a requirement of the payment of just compensation (ss. 84.30).

Amortization as a tool for local government is illegal in Wisconsin, and OAAW members hope your community will not spend time and money proposing such an unfair attempt to remove or regulate signs.


The members of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Wisconsin (OAAW) had encountered numerous examples of municipalities using an unusual tactic to force the removal of a billboard. Property owners had been forced to remove a billboard as a condition for acquiring an unrelated municipal permit (such as a building permit). A permit was not issued until the landowner agreed that the billboard on the property would be removed at the end of the lease between the owner of the billboard and the landowner.

OAAW maintained that (1) this municipal extortion was illegal interference with a contract, namely between the property owner and the billboard owner, and (2) these local governments were using this tactic, know as “exaction”, to have billboards removed within their jurisdictions without having to pay just compensation to the owner of the billboard.

Following the lead of other states, Senate Bill 283 was crafted to stop the use of exaction. Specifically, the law prohibits a municipality from interfering with a contract between a property owner and another party.

On March 21, 2006, Wisconsin Act 171 was signed into law by Governor Jim Doyle. Click here to see a copy of the law.

Outdoor Advertising Association of Wisconsin

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