New Jersey Herald

Hopatcong To Adjust Hours For Knocking On Doors

Hopatcong is modifying its ordinances on solicitors.

New Jersey Herald — October 10, 2018

By Jennifer Jean Miller New Jersey Herald

HOPATCONG — A United States Supreme Court precedent that has recently impacted New Jersey municipalities has prompted the borough to revise its ordinances for the permitted hours peddlers and solicitors are allowed to knock on doors.

"A lot of towns had ordinances that cut off soliciting and peddling at 6 or 7 p.m.," commented borough attorney John Ursin at the Oct. 3 council meeting. "The U.S. Supreme Court decision came out and said that really was not a legitimate opportunity for somebody to go door-to-door because people aren't normally home before 5 or 6. And the Supreme Court set the time to 9 (p.m.)"

Ursin advised council members the borough's insurance company issued a bulletin on the topic. A bulletin available online from the Municipal Excess Liability Joint Insurance Fund warned fund commissioners in May 2018 "law firms are contacting towns about their solicitation ordinances and threatening litigation." Ursin said one Texas law firm in particular has "obtained significant damage awards on this issue from municipalities across the country, close to six figures."

The Borough Council introduced two ordinances relating to this topic that will be subject to final readings on Oct. 17. The first is the revocation of the borough's curfew for solicitors in its current entirety. Solicitors and peddlers with proper licensure are presently allowed to knock on residents' doors between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Under the upcoming ordinance amendment, also up for final reading on Oct. 17, the permitted hours will change to 9 a.m. through 9 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. Ursin told the council the extension of the hours for solicitors is "consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court case and the guidance of the insurance company." Commercial peddlers will continue to be forbidden from door-knocking activities within the borough on Sundays and holidays.

"We're being proactive here," Ursin added. "I'm aware of the issue, I've seen it become an issue in other places."

The Supreme Court precedent used in recent legal arguments is New Jersey Citizen Action v. Edison Twp., a 1986 case. Solicitors have challenged municipalities, claiming restrictions of their First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights under the U.S. Constitution and state constitutional provisions. The Municipal Excess Liability Joint Insurance Fund also advised fund commissioners of fingerprinting regulation challenges, which Ursin said are limited to the facts of the particular cases.

In Hopatcong, those selling goods or services must apply for a paid license through the borough and undergo a background check. Particular groups are exempt from licensure including: Federal Census takers, political canvassers, veterans or fire personnel with special licenses to solicit, representatives of non-profit religious or civic groups and members of charitable organizations. Some service-oriented groups, such as the local fire departments and first aid squads, are also exempt.

Hopatcong's "no knock" ordinance has been in place since 1995 and was amended in 2015.

"It's for the safety of our seniors and other residents," said Councilwoman Marie Galate.

Residents can be added to the borough's "no solicitation list" via a written request. Solicitors with proper permitting receive this list from the borough clerk to avoid residents who have opted out from commercial solicitations. Exempt groups are not prevented from soliciting at any residence, in spite of the no solicitation list.

Borough administrator Ron Tappan said he would like to remind residents they should not hesitate to contact the police department if a solicitor cannot provide proper credentials about the organization they represent.

Other area municipalities have amended "No Knock Lists" provisions and ordinances governing commercial solicitors and peddlers. Green Township recently adopted its "No Knock List" in September. Green also adjusted its solicitor application requirements, mandating two photographs and two credible references per solicitor application. In lieu of references, applicants for Green Township peddling credentials can provide other evidence to demonstrate business responsibility. Stanhope, on the other hand, recently deleted its "No Knock List" from its peddling and soliciting codes. Stanhope Borough Administrator Brian McNeilly said the borough could not justify the need for maintaining a list since low commercial solicitation takes place in the borough.

Top Top | NJCA Homepage | NJCA in the News