Knock, knock! Who’s there? Solicitors face registration, regulation under proposed ordinance

OXFORD TWP. – A 40-year-old local law that prohibits the door-to-door sale of goods and services by classifying the practice as a “nuisance” could be amended to allow it as long as salespeople file with the local government and follow a set of rules.

Proposed ordinance language that would regulate the activities of peddlers, solicitors and transient merchants working in the community and require them to register with the township made its way through a first reading last week.

The township board voted 6-1 to schedule a second reading and possible adoption for the 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8 meeting.

Under it, all solicitors, peddlers and transient merchants would be “required to register” at the township office (300 Dunlap Rd.) using a special form to be supplied by the municipality.

In addition to mandating registration, the proposed ordinance seeks to regulate the activities of these types of salespeople.

For example, it would prohibit them from conducting business before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m. and remaining on someone else’s property after they’ve been asked to leave.

Also prohibited is “calling attention” to a business or the items being sold “by means of blowing any horn or whistle, ringing any bell, crying out or by any other noise (so) as to be unreasonably audible within an enclosed structure.”

Salespeople wouldn’t be allowed, under the proposed ordinance, to make “any false or misleading statements about the product or service being sold, including untrue statements of endorsement.”

It further states, “No peddler, solicitor or transient merchant shall claim to have the endorsement of the township solely based on the township having issued a license or certificate of registration to that person.”
Salespeople who fail “to provide proof of license or registration and identification, “when requested” would be considered in violation of the proposed ordinance as would those who use “the license or registration of another person.

Under the proposed ordinance, salespeople are prohibited from entering another’s property, “unless invited to do so,” if it is “marked with a sign or placard at least four inches long and four inches wide with print of at least 48 point in size stating ‘no peddlers’, ‘no solicitors’, ‘no salesmen’, ‘no salespersons’, ‘no trespassing’, ‘no transient merchants’, or ‘peddlers, solicitors and transient merchants prohibited’, or other words of similar meaning or import.”

Those who violate the ordinance would be subject to a civil fine of not more than $500, plus costs, ranging from not less than $9 to not more than $500.

Township Treasurer Joe Ferrari was the only board member who did not support moving forward with the proposed ordinance because he prefers to keep in place the existing language, enacted in 1978, that prohibits uninvited solicitations, except those for charitable purposes.

Under the current ordinance, “The practice of going upon private residential property by peddlers, hawkers, or vendors of goods, wares or merchandise, or by persons soliciting orders for future delivery of goods, wares or merchandise or for the performance of services for a fee, not having been requested or invited so to do by the owner or occupant of such private residential property, is hereby declared to be a nuisance and punishable as a misdemeanor.”

“Persons licensed . . . to make charitable solicitations are not prohibited by this section from making such solicitations,” the ordinance states.

“Everybody knows how I feel about this,” Ferrari said. “We have complaints all the time about solicitors coming into our community. I just had one today.”

Ferrari said he’s had them come through his neighborhood at 7 a.m. and “they don’t leave when you tell them to leave.”

Even more “disturbing” to Ferrari was an incident involving a solicitor coming to his door and asking his 2½-year-old  child, “What’s your name, son?”

“Really? Asking my baby what (his) name is. I kept it together, but just barely,” he said.

Township Supervisor Bill Dunn noted the board has been warned by its attorney that “we’re violating (solicitors’) First Amendment rights” with the current ordinance.

“We have to do something,” he said. “This (proposed ordinance) is the best thing we can do right now.”

Last September, township attorney Gary Rentrop explained to the board that the courts have ruled, “The state cannot make that decision as to what the residents hear or want to hear.”

“What the courts tend to say is if the resident wants to put a ‘no solicitation’ sign up or if the township or the police department wants to provide a ‘no solicitation’ list that people sign up (for), that’s the safe haven to be in,” Rentrop previously told township officials.

At the time, Rentrop noted that by only allowing charitable solicitations, the township’s current ordinance, in addition to prohibiting commercial solicitations, “effectively precludes anyone (from) going door-to-door for religious or political reasons if they’re not a charity and that’s completely unconstitutional.”

Ferrari disagreed with Dunn.

“If these companies are going to sue me, sue me. I have no problem with that whatsoever,” he said. “We’ve been sued before. Our residents’ privacy is more important.”

“Unfortunately, the people that want to take us to court probably have more money than anyone,” Dunn responded.

“They’re people like Charter Communications (and) all these (other companies) wanting to go around (door-to-door).”

That didn’t bother Ferrari.

“I think our residents’ right to privacy is more important,” he said.

Trustee Elgin Nichols asked if this proposed ordinance would impact people going door-to-door for political purposes, such as candidates running for office or people campaigning for and against ballot issues.

“They are exempt,” replied Dunn.

“That’s what I wanted to hear,” Nichols said.

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