• Amortization in Wenatchee

    Amortization refers to the practice of forcing a billboard company to remove a billboard after an arbitrary period of time without compensation for the loss. Amortization has reared its ugly head in Wenatchee, Washington. In November the city of Wenatchee sent a letter to the city’s out of home companies saying it intended to amortize all billboards over a 5-10 year time frame.  Last December the Wenatchee city council approved an ordinance to amortize billboards.

    Billboards in Wenatchee are now a non-conforming use.  No further structural alterations on the city’s billboards may be made after January 20, 2020.  All billboards must be “brought into compliance with conformity” (legalspeak for removed) within 10 years.

    Insider’s take: Amortization takes something without paying for it.  This is unfair.  George Will calls amortization “slow motion confiscation.”  Here’s a thought experiment.  If the government condemned your house for a road expansion and said that it wasn’t going to compensate you because you’ve received enough benefit of living in the house for the past 10 years wouldn’t you be upset? You’d also be upset if the government said we don’t like how your house looks so we’re going to require you to take it down at the end of 10 years because you’ll have received sufficient benefit from living in the house. Taking something without paying for it is unfair.  That applies to billboards as well as houses. 

    An unintended consequence of this bad ordinance will be high city legal bills when out of home companies fight back in court.  You can expect amortization to be challenged on free speech and just compensation grounds.  Tacoma was involved in a 20 year long legal battle with Clear Channel Outdoor after passing an amortization ordinance.  In 2017 the Tacoma city council agreed to a settlement agreement and called off plans for amortization.

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    One Comment

    1. Hello Dave – I read with interest the article on amortization of billboards in Wenatchee, WA.
      Hopefully the city attorney understands that any lawful Billboard along a controlled highway (i.e., National highway system including Interstates and federal aid primary roads) MUST be paid with cash compensation if removed.
      Check out the federal HBA and state law.

      This issue remains a top priority to the industry ( and to me even retired!).
      Myron Laible


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