Residents in a South Jersey community may soon have a way to opt out from random knocks from sometimes pesky solicitors who go from door-to-door canvassing neighborhoods peddling everything from cookware, cosmetics, windows and siding, to energy.
The Washington Township Council unanimously approved an ordinance Wednesday night that would allow residents to put their address on a Do Not Knock list that will be distributed to peddlers and solicitors who must obtain a license to conduct business in the town. Violators could be fined up to $1,000 for each offense and have their license revoked.
State officials don't keep track of how many towns have adopted similar "do not knock" measures or how many consumer complaints have been lodged against unscrupulous door-to-door salespeople. Most complaints investigated by the state involve door-to-door sales by home contractors and third-party energy suppliers, said Lisa Coryell, a spokesperson for the state Department of Consumer Affairs.
"It's something people want," said Washington Township Council Vice President Sean Longfellow, who spearheaded the measure. "It's a good idea."
Longfellow said some residents don't want salespeople knocking on their doors selling products. Last year, police received 107 complaints from residents about soliciting. Officials also believe the measure will help protect senior citizens from scammers who may prey upon unsuspecting older residents.
"We, the residents, should have the ability to determine who knocks on our door," Brian Dickerson told council during a public hearing before the vote.
Similar to the national Do Not Call registry enacted several years ago that prohibits telemarketers from making unsolicited phone calls, the ordinance would create a list of residents who don't want solicitors knocking on their doors. For a fee, residents can also get a sticker to place in their window or on the door to identify the home as a "do not knock" residence.
With more than 48,000 residents Washington Township is the largest community in Gloucester County and covers 23 square miles. Once predominantly farmland and open space, the township has become one of the fastest-growing communities in New Jersey, dotted with residential and commercial developments.
Mayor Joann Gattinelli said she expects to sign the ordinance into law when it reaches her desk, possibly as early as Friday. It would take effect in about 30 days, she said.
"I believe it's something that is necessary in town," Gattinelli said in an interview after council's vote. "I'm glad it was brought about."
The "do not knock" list would not apply to religious and political organizations, which are protected under free-speech laws, Longfellow said. The ordinance would be enforced by the police department, which supported passage.
Several towns, including Kenilworth in North Jersey, have passed "do not knock" laws, said Michael Darcy, executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. Like Washington Township, many towns also have laws requiring peddler permits, which work hand in hand with the registry, he added.
"If someone on the 'don't knock' registry had a person show up at their door selling goods, they could be pretty sure that was an unscrupulous salesperson who did not get a permit and 'don't knock' list from town hall," Darcy said.
Washington Township has been contacted by other South Jersey communities that want to pass "do not knock" laws, Longfellow said. The township allows soliciting only Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to dusk.
Some communities like Ventnor and Cinnaminson bar solicitors from knocking on residences or buildings with a sign with words to the effect that solicitors or peddlers are not welcome. Violators in Ventnor could face up to 90 days in jail. Pennsauken requires solicitors to pay a $50 permit fee and undergo a background check, said spokesperson Frank Sinatra.
Cherry Hill passed a canvassing and soliciting ordinance in 2013 "to prevent fraud, crimes, undue public inconvenience or annoyance" and prohibits peddling on Sundays. Applicants must pay $90 for a permit and be fingerprinted and photographed. Since January, the township has issued 58 permits, said spokesperson Erin Gill.