Melvindale business owner charged after City is forced to remove hundreds of signs cluttering neighborhoods

  • Nuisance sign removal part of Detroit’s continued Blight to Beauty effort
  • Repeated warnings ignored by business owner; city sought legal action
  • 59 misdemeanor counts of violating city sign ordinance authorized by 36th District Court


After months of ignored warnings from the city’s Blight to Beauty team, 36th District Court has authorized charges against William Shaw IV, owner of Shaw’s Plumbing of Melvindale, for violating city sign ordinances by the repeated hanging of commercial signs without proper authorization. Violations of sign regulations are considered a public nuisance because they create visual clutter. Shaw has been charged with 59 misdemeanor counts of violating city sign ordinance, and faces up to $29,500 in fines and/or 90 days in jail.

In 2022, the city’s Blight to Beauty program began a nuisance sign removal process with the goal of removing illegally placed signs after receiving complaints from residents. After eighteen months of regular removals by the city’s blight remediation division and contact made with business owners, the team has seen a decline in illegal signage.

Over the past three months, an average of more than 400 signs were removed by the team, which is down significantly from the average of more than 1,700 taken down over the same period last year. Though these numbers are trending downward, some offenders are not removing their illegal signs as a result of warnings, which is forcing the city to take legal action.

“The City of Detroit is being forced to use precious manpower and resources to remove these illegal signs from our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Mike Duggan. “Enough is enough. We want our residents to be proud of their communities and not have them littered with businesses who have decided these signs are the cheapest way to advertise their services.”

To continue the effort to reduce blight, the city identified the top twenty violators of offending signage. The city has decided to pursue criminal charges against the five worst offenders and the remaining fifteen will be pursued civilly to recoup the city’s cost for the resources used to remove the signs.

Background on case against William Shaw IV Shaw’s Plumbing was found to be the worst offender among the top twenty identified. From February 2022 to this month, the city has been forced to use funds and manpower to take down more than 615 of Shaw’s signs, found in every corner of the city.

Plumbing signs pic
Shaw's Plumbing signs have been located in multiple locations throughout the city.


During the process of the past year or more, Shaw, who lives in Ecorse, received warnings for nuisance signage that included text messages sent to all known phone numbers, repeated phone calls, and cease-and-desist letters from the law department, demanding he stop littering our city with his signs. In addition to the warnings, the law department sent a Fair Warning Letter requesting that Shaws’ owner or representative attend a meeting on July 17, 2023, with the law department to address the ongoing violations of the city’s ordinance. Shaw ignored all attempts to inform him of the sign ordinances and continued to nail his signs to city property.

Not only did Shaw place hundreds of illegal signs in neighborhoods across the city, he went through extra effort and cost to keep them there. Instead of a basic staple gun, Shaw used a nail gun with threaded nails that have wide plastic collars that make removing them extremely difficult. In many cases, city workers had to use a box cutter to cut around the heavy-duty nail heads. Shaw also had many of his signs mounted at heights that made them hard to remove, suggesting the person installing the signs was on a ladder or back of a truck as opposed to on foot.

Charges were requested by the city’s Law Department and Friday, July 28, 36th District Court authorized charges on 59 counts of violating the City of Detroit’s sign ordinance. He faces a $500 fine for each count and/or up to 90 days in jail. The jail time would be served concurrently, but the fines could total a whopping $29,500.

Katrina Crawley, Assistant Director of Blight Remediation, General Services Department, is sick and tired of these signs junking up the city’s landscape. “One of my first assignments was to address a letter sent to city leadership regarding neighborhood issues, one of which was these illegal signs plaguing our neighborhoods,” said Crawley. “My team got to work right away and developed a process that included educating business owners regarding compliance with city sign ordinances with the goal of eventually getting rid of them and creating more beautiful neighborhoods for Detroiters to enjoy.”

The Blight Remediation Division works to improve the quality of life for Detroit residents through blight removal of all forms, including nuisance signage. Their outreach covers community education on violations through remediation and communication. In partnership with legal representatives, the division will continue to hold businesses accountable for violating ordinances across the City of Detroit. For more information on city sign and advertising ordinances see: ARTICLE IV. - REGULATION OF BUSINESS AND ADVERTISING SIGNS | Code of Ordinances | Detroit, MI | Municode Library