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The city requires a permit even to replace a light bulb in signs

According to their ordinances - http://library.municode.com/index.aspx?clientId=14101 - Do a search for 18-50

A building permit is required for "The installation, alteration or repair of any sign". Technically, you need a permit even to replace a light bulb in a sign. The fact that the sign company has no idea of this means it's not typically enforced. The code enforcement guy is playing hardball with this guy because he missed a protection payment or something.

The sign ordinance:

http://www.wilmingtonnc.gov/Portals/0/documents/Development%20Services/P...

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