No, it is not acceptable to put anything on any car whether it is in Walmart parking lot or on a public street. It doesn’t matter if a business sends someone into its own parking lot to put a coupon flyer or other type of information on vehicles. It is generally illegal in California.
Under California Penal Code § 556, it is unlawful to post, or facilitate posting materials on state, city, or county-owned property. Utility poles, mailboxes, governmental buildings or structures, or traffic signs can seem like an ideal place to post a flyer for maximum exposure, however because these are protected pieces of property, you can face criminal charges if you do so.
In addition, under California Penal Code § 556.1, it is unlawful to post, or facilitate posting, materials that advertise services, businesses, merchandise, or anything to be sold, bartered, or given away upon property you do not own and have not been given a right to post on. The prohibited materials include signs, pictures, transparencies, advertisements (in any form), or mechanical devices.
A flyer, irrespective of the material, will fall into one or more of these categories. Note that violating this code can be charged as a misdemeanour offense, with fines and potential jail time. Another circumstance where posting flyers may be a chargeable offense is if you are trespassing in an attempt to post the flyers.
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Types of Fliers You Can Put on Cars Without Facing a Criminal Charge
However, many types of flyers will not fall into the advertising category, such as flyers for lost pets or belongings, and so you may not face a criminal charge under state law for posting them, if not posted on governmental property. Nonetheless, the owner of the property still reserves the right to remove the flyers, or ask you to remove them.
It is very pertinent to note here that while there are California state laws prohibiting certain kinds of posting of materials, the city and county in which you are posting them may have its own code or ordinance concerning such an act.
It is advisable you become conversant with the municipal codes and ordinances in the city and county in which you are posting. These codes and ordinances may or may not align with state laws, and can vary widely across the state, so it is important you verify them prior to posting.
Have it in mind that once you violate a city or county ordinance, you could face either civil or criminal action, depending on the facts of the case. You could also face a civil citation and fine or even a misdemeanour criminal charge.
Note that these charges, fines, and penalties also tend to vary from location to location and the facts and circumstances of the case. If you have questions about the codes and ordinances where you live, or where you plan to post flyers, it is better you consult with a local California criminal defence attorney to make sure you are not on the wrong side of any laws that could lead to criminal prosecution.
You can also choose to research these ordinances online on the city’s website. When it comes to posting flyers, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Legal Places to Put Fliers in California or Anywhere Else
Generally, littering is a big no-no, and you don’t want people to associate it with your business. So if you are looking for ideas on where to hang flyers, below are some great places for flyer distribution.
1. Bus Stops
An ideal place for flyers advertising is where people frequently go and stand idle, such as waiting for a ride. A bus stop is one better place to hang flyers for several reasons. Aside from the fact that you have an audience there since a lot of people commute, a lot of people can also be drawn to reading advertisements on bus stop walls and flyers on bulletin boards while waiting for a bus. In addition, you can take advantage of certain demographics that use the bus stops.
2. Distribute by Hand
Note that distributing flyers by hand is legal, provided the activity takes place on public property and is done in a non-threatening manner. You are advised not to impede pedestrian traffic or make comments to those who refuse your flyer. Conversely, gated communities, shopping malls and their parking lots are private property and usually have security personnel patrolling the area. Permission is required for distributing flyers in those areas.
3. School Bulletin Boards
You can also consider school bulletin boards, especially if your target audience are children or parents, distributing them within schools make sense. However, remember to also ask permission from school officials to put your flyers on bulletin boards. You can even partner with the school cafeteria to place your flyers on the cashier’s table where they are accessible to students.
4. Place Flyers at Checkout Counters and Reception Areas
This is one of the most common options for flyer advertising. For small businesses with physical counters, you can place your flyers at checkout counters. Customers will be compelled to pick up a flyer from your counter to read while waiting for their order. A great flyer content idea for this placement is additional information on your products and services, especially if you do custom work.
5. Avoid Door-to-Door Distribution
Avoid questionable distribution practices. Also note that mail boxes that are outside the home are still off limits – even if they are on public property. According to the United States Postal Service, “Only mail that has been sent through the USPS may be placed in these types of receptacles.” The regulations do not govern what can be placed in a mail slot on the door of a residence or business.
6. Consider Community Bulletin Boards
Note that in some cities, there are designated places where you can put your flyers. Community bulletin boards usually in your local Chamber of Commerce or in some local groceries and community organizations are also ideal options. In some cities, you can post your flyers on light poles. Attach a couple of flyers so people can take them home.
7. The Laundromats
Just like the bus stops and checkout counters, another unique place where people wait for quite a bit of time are Laundromats. People wait for their laundry to finish so they will be naturally drawn to things to read inside the facility. Ask at the Laundromats in your area if there is a bulletin board where you can hang your flyers.
Even if they are parked on public property, cars are private property. There is no legal right to place a flyer on someone’s windshield, especially in California. Police officers have wide discretion to determine what constitutes disorderly conduct or harassment.
If you are told to stop distributing flyers, politely ask the officer for an explanation. Always make a note of his name and badge number. Leaving a stack of flyers in a public area is a form of littering. They must be handed out one-by-one.