Outdoor Advertising: How to Legally Display Public Ads in Singapore
Generally, to display an outdoor advertising sign or signboard (collectively referred to as “outdoor signs” or just “signs” in this article) for your business, you must have a valid licence from the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).
The BCA is an agency under the Ministry of National Development that encourages the development of buildings, structures and infrastructure in Singapore.
This article will explain the legal requirements you must comply with to obtain the licence, and certain situations, where you may be exempted from the requirement of a licence to display such signs.
Display of Outdoor Ads and Signboards
Why and when do I need a licence?
The licence requirement allows the BCA to regulate the display of outdoor signs on the streetscape and prevent the proliferation of unsightly and unlicensed signs. You will require a licence even if you own the building that the outdoor sign is to be displayed on.
What are outdoor signs?
Outdoor signs are signs displayed in outdoor spaces (including roofed spaces) that are not fully enclosed on all sides and are either accessible to the public, or facilitate pedestrian traffic.
Advertisements versus signboards
When it comes to the display of outdoor signs, a distinction is made between an advertisement and a signboard. Briefly, the difference between an advertisement and a signboard is that an advertisement is promotional in nature while the latter is not.
Generally, advertisements are any logos, signs or representations that promote any good, service, brand or event. These are your typical advertisements that promote your business, such as flyers or billboards.
On the other hand, a signboard is any notice, visual device, or representation, relating to the premises the signboard is affixed at, that does not contain a brand name or trademark that promotes a good or service. This may be a sign for your storefront that identifies your store.
Signs that are not allowed to be displayed outdoors
There a number of types of signs that are not allowed to be displayed outdoors, even if you have a licence. These are advertisements:
- That are illuminated by flickering, flashing and running lights (except certain streets, including Orchard Road, Bras Basah, Bugis and Chinatown.)
- On-free standing structures
- On buildings above roofs or roof parapet levels
- On public infrastructure and their ancillary structures (e.g. MRT entrances and exits)
- On residential buildings and the residential component of mixed-use buildings
- Within or in the vicinity of airports and airbases
- Located over or within public streets, including expressways, flyovers, bridges, railings, central median dividers, traffic islands and on trees or bushes
- Within water catchment areas, public open spaces, nature reserves, water bodies, along coastlines and on vacant land
Exemptions to the requirement for a licence
You do not need a licence if your outdoor sign falls under any of the following categories:
- Any single signboard or series of related signboards with a total area of not more than 5m2
- Signboards displayed by any religious body, Government-aided school, or any hospital, clinic, dispensary, nursing or welfare home or hospice, run by a charity
- Any advertisement or signboard displayed on any stall within a hawker centre, food centre or market, or in any underpass or tunnel.
- Any advertisement displayed at free noticeboards at bus stops, or at the low-cost noticeboards near MRT stations (discussed further below).
Guidelines and requirements to obtain a licence
Before applying for a licence, you must ensure that your sign complies with the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Outdoor Signage Guidelines, BCA’s Regulations and any other guidelines and requirements that may be applicable.
URA’s Outdoor Signage Guidelines provide guidance and regulations depending on where you wish to display your sign.
- In the Central Area: Due to the fact that the central area and city skyline are a result of careful city planning, guidance is required to ensure the streets remain attractive and uncluttered. Thus, advertisement signs are only allowed along certain designated signage routes such as Orchard Road, New Bridge Road and parts of Raffles Place. Design guidelines such as the mounting height on buildings (e.g. 20m maximum mounting height for signs at Raffles Place above walkway levels) and the illumination of the signs are provided.
- Outside the Central Area: These guidelines outline the requirements for signs to be displayed on commercial or industrial buildings, civil and community institutions, bus terminals, MRT stations and petrol stations, etc. Requirements also differ depending on the type of sign, whether it is a free-standing advertisement sign, sign on a lamppost, signs at construction sites etc. For example, no permanent advertisement signs are permitted at petrol stations. However, temporary signs are allowed for up to 2 months if they promote events taking place on the premises.
- On a Conservation Building: These guidelines are provided for signs to be designed such that they complement the façade of the building and its heritage. The location of these signs is also regulated. For example, if the sign is to be mounted on the façade of a building with an original residential front, a sign can be mounted above the entrance door provided it does not exceed the width of the door.
To determine in which area your sign is to be displayed, refer to the URA map.
BCA’s Regulations include the Building Control (Outdoor Advertising) Regulations (BCOAR), which provide directions as to the projection of signs depending on where it is affixed. For example, if the sign is displayed 5m or more above any street, it shall not project more than 1.5m from the regular line of the street.
Other guidelines may also apply, for example, concerning the display of banners:
- The top edge of the banner must not be above 30 metres from ground level.
- The area of the banner should not exceed 50% of the surface area of the building façade.
- A maximum of 3 banners can be displayed on the building façade at any one time.
- For banners put up for a national event (e.g. Formula One Grand Prix), no licence is needed if the brand name of the sponsor does not take up more than 15% of the banner area.
To display signs on lampposts and banner poles along Orchard Road, the Orchard Road Business Association must first endorse the proposed artwork before the licence application to BCA is made.
Temporary building permit
In certain situations, you may also have to obtain a temporary building permit before the licence can be granted to you.
For example, if your sign exceeds 10m2 and is supported by an advertising structure, or the uppermost part of the structure is at least 4m above the ground, a temporary building permit must be obtained. In this situation, a Professional Engineer must be engaged to submit the relevant documents to BCA on your behalf.
Obtain consent for displaying signs on building premises
To display signs on building premises, you must be either an owner, Subsidiary Proprietor (SP – i.e unit owner) or tenant of the building. You must also obtain consent prior to making an application.
Whose consent must be obtained depends on who manages the building on which the sign is to be displayed:
- Any part of the premises within the Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST): If the applicant is an SP of the MCST, the MCST must give written consent to the sign being displayed. The MCST and the applicant must also endorse the documents required for the application (which will be discussed later in the article). If the applicant is a tenant of a unit in the MCST, written consent must be provided by the MCST and SP, or the landlord. All required documents must be endorsed by these parties as well as the applicant.
- Commercial Units in areas managed by Town Council: If the applicant is the owner of the commercial unit, the Town Council must given written consent to the sign being displayed. The Town Council and the applicant must endorse all required documents.
If the applicant is a tenant in the commercial unit, the Town Council and commercial lot owner or landlord must given written consent. All required documents must be endorsed by these parties as well as the applicant.
- All other types of properties: If the applicant is the owner, they must endorse all the documents. If the applicant is a tenant, the property owner or landlord, must provide written consent to the sign being displayed. All required documents must be endorsed by these parties as well as the applicant.
Applying for a licence
To apply for a licence with the BCA, you (the applicant) must first register an Advertising Licensing System (ALS) account and submit your proposal, along with all required documents and necessary consent, for consultation and evaluation with the BCA.
If the proposal complies with all guidelines and requirements (mentioned above), an in-principle approval will be given. You may then proceed to submit a formal proposal for approval, after obtaining a temporary building permit if necessary.
The documents required for the consultation are as follows:
- Visuals of the proposed sign with the position of the licence number
- Elevation plan of the display location indicating the sign’s dimensions
- Sectional view of the method of fixing the sign and materials used to construct the sign
- Layout showing the relative position of the sign compared to surrounding buildings, roads or other landmarks
- Site plan showing the location where the sign is to be exhibited
- Declaration Form and photos of the premises showing other signboards (this form serves a declaration as to whether you have already obtained the 5m2 signboard exemption – mentioned below)
- Copy of the land/building owner’s consent letter
A Professional Engineer’s Certification must also be obtained if you require a temporary building permit (as mentioned above).
The fee for the licence will depend on the type of licence required and the size of the advertisement. For example, a Signboard Licence for a signboard of up to 15m2 will cost $50.
Further, every business’ first signboard at their business premises is eligible for a one-time 5m2 signboard exemption. In other words, the licence fee will be waived for the first 5m2 of a business’ signboard at their business premises if the business does not have any other signboards, that have already been granted this exemption, at the premises.
BCA has provided a licence fee calculator which can be found here.
Once the licence fee is paid via eNets, credit card, cheque or GIRO, the licence will be sent to the applicant’s email address.
Your licence may be renewed automatically every year if the licence fee is paid via GIRO. The GIRO form can be found here.
Penalty for displaying outdoor signs without a licence
Displaying an outdoor advertising sign without a licence is an offence. Offenders can be fined up to $5,000 for doing so. The sign may also be removed without prior notice.
Display of Ads at Bus Stops and Linkways
As mentioned above, you are exempted from the requirement for a licence to display outdoor signs if you are displaying your advertisement at the free noticeboards at bus stops, or at the low-cost noticeboards near MRT stations.
If you wish to put up advertisements for free at bus stops, there are certain bus stops with free noticeboards. You do not need to apply to put up these advertisements. There are no restrictions associated with the type of advertisements displayed on the noticeboard.
For a full list of bus stops with free noticeboards, click here.
However, note that on the 1st and 15th of each month, all notices will be removed during regular maintenance by the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
Alternatively, JCDecaux runs low-cost noticeboards at 46 locations around Singapore. These notice boards are located at linkways near MRT stations.
You can put up to 2 A5-sized notices per noticeboard at the cost of $0.50 per day. Each notice must be displayed for at least 2 weeks and can be displayed for up to 52 weeks.
To book a space on these noticeboards, you can visit this website or go to Paya Lebar, Jurong East and Yishun MRT Stations every Wednesday to book in person.
The notice must be in landscape format and in black and white. The notice will be posted the following Monday if approved and submitted by 11:59pm the previous Wednesday. Failing this, the notice will be posted the Monday after.
If the technical specifications of the notice are not met, you have 3 days to resubmit the ad, or the booking will be cancelled.
For a full list of locations with low cost noticeboards, click here.
Illegal Display of Ads
When displaying advertisements, you must consider whether you are violating a number of other laws that may apply.
A common method of public advertising in Singapore is to paste advertisements around HDB common areas and residences and other public property. However, this can actually constitute an offence of public nuisance under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (MOPONA).
Under the MOPONA, in the case of public property, any person who affixes any advertisement on public property, or upon private property without authority or consent of the owner or occupier, shall be liable to a fine of up to $1,000.
Under the Penal Code, anyone who causes a change or destruction in any property knowing that it is likely to cause wrongful loss or damage to the public or any person, commits mischief. Mischief is punishable with a jail term of up to 1 year and/or a fine.
If loss or damage caused due to mischief amounts to $500 or more, you will be liable for imprisonment of up to 2 years and/or a fine.
The Vandalism Act provides that vandalism is committed when a person affixes or displays an advertisement on property without the written authority from the government (for public property), or without the written consent of the owner or occupier (for private property).
Vandalism is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 or imprisonment of up to 3 years. Repeat offenders will also be given 3 to 8 strokes of the cane.
Unapproved display of ads on road structure/facility or public street
Under the Street Works (Advertisements on Road Structures, Road Related Facilities and Public Streets) Regulations, no person shall display an advertisement on or at any road structure, road-related facility or public street. This is unless, written permission from the LTA has been obtained, or the advertisement is put up at an approved space.
Approved spaces are designated spaces on places such as road structures or public streets for the display of ads, marked by “Advertisement Display Area” signs.
Any person who contravening this regulation can be fined up to $2,000. In the case of a continuing offence, the offender can be further fined up to $100 a day or part thereof for which the offence continues after conviction.
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