A Primer on No Soliciting Signs: What Are They & Do They Work?

What does ‘No Soliciting’ mean?

In its most basic definition, the word solicit means to ask for. For instance, a person can solicit a sale, a donation, a vote, or “a moment of your time”.

In civil law, solicitation means any request or appeal for anything of value. This includes solicitations may be made in writing, in person, by telephone, or by any other electronic means, such as email or text.  This includes activities for business profit or charitable purposes.

State laws vary as do municipal rulings and community regulations regarding ‘no soliciting’, but the concept remains true.  Whether backed by rule of law or not, “no soliciting’ is the request or demand that no person comes to you, your business or your home, or contacts you by other means, in order to ask for anything.

What is the best way to keep solicitors away?

Whether at home, on the street, or at work, most people, at one time or another, have been approached by individuals wanting something from them.

How can you stop canvassers, religious groups, political campaigners, and salespeople from coming up to the door or your home or business and bothering you with their various ‘pitches’?

The Supreme Court has rules that a solicitor has a Constitutional Right to knock on doors and bother people at their homes or businesses.  And we can all agree we don’t want to head down that slippery slope of curtailing our First Amendment Rights. So, what can you do to keep solicitors at bay?

One common opinion stated in most of these cases is that if a homeowner really wants to prevent solicitors, all they have to do is post a sign that says they do not want solicitors. Privately posted signs are an effective, legitimate way to tell salespeople to leave you alone.

By posting a sign that states that you do not want to receive solicitors, you are telling anyone attempting to solicit that you don’t want them on your property. In almost any part of the United States, those who remain on your property against your express instructions (verbal or written) are guilty of trespass and are in violation of the law.

In the words of one Supreme Court opinion, “The Court has traditionally respected the right of a householder to bar, by order or notice, solicitors, hawkers, and peddlers from his property.” 

Constitutional protection for door-to-door salespeople

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The United States holds sacrosanct the First Amendment and the right to freedom of speech; a right that has been upheld by the Supreme Court in all cases relative to door-to-door sales, religious proselytizing, campaigning, and leafleting.  In cases brought before it, the court has upheld the “right to sell” and the “right to tell”.  

The arguments in these cases deal with the apparent conflict of two rights: the right to the exercise of freedom of speech and the right to privacy.

In each case, the court findings have concluded that there are less restrictive ways of protecting the homeowner’s privacy than restricting or curtailing a salesperson’s or canvassers right to freedom of speech.  Therefore any law or ordinance seeking to outright prohibit soliciting will be deemed unconstitutional.

The specifics of these cases make interesting reading.  You can find them here:

Local ordinances regarding door-to- door sales

Local ordinances cannot prohibit what Federal law protects.  In other words, no local regulation can make door-to-door sales, canvassing, or leafleting illegal; nor can it prohibit soliciting by a particular group in violation of their First Amendment right to free speech.

However, many local communities pass ordinances to restrict and control certain aspects of door-to-door soliciting.  These are Constitutional, as long as all they do is place reasonable limitations on the soliciting. These limitations may include such a requirement such as only allowing solicitations between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.  Ordinances may not prohibit soliciting by any one group of people, such as members of a particular religion, a type of business, or political party.

A local ordinance is a law enforceable within a political unit, smaller that a state, such as a city or parish.  

Here are some examples of local ordinances regarding soliciting:

In Henderson, Nevada

Peddle or solicit” means to sell, offer for sale, or solicit orders for goods or services upon the streets, sidewalks, or alleys of the City, or by going from dwelling to dwelling or place to place whether by foot or by other means of transportation.

No person engaged in peddling or soliciting shall …(E) Attempt to peddle or solicit at any dwelling where there is displayed near its entrance a sign bearing the words “No Peddlers or Solicitors” or other words of similar import, except pursuant to a prior invitation by any person residing in such dwelling.

Here are the relevant portions of a trespass law in Denver, Colorado

It is unlawful for any person knowingly to enter or remain upon the premises of another when consent to enter or remain is absent, denied, or withdrawn by the owner, occupant, or person having lawful control thereof.

It shall be prima facie evidence that consent is absent, denied, or withdrawn, to enter or remain upon the premises of another when:

Any person fails or refuses to remove himself from said premises when requested to leave by the owner, occupant or person having lawful control thereof; or

Such premises are fenced or otherwise enclosed in a manner designed to exclude intruders; or

Private property or public property, which is not then open to the public, is posted with signs which give notice that entrance is forbidden.

A “conspicuous sign” shall mean a sign that is at least one (1) square foot in size and sufficiently lighted to be clear and visible and that is posted in a conspicuous location.

Here are a few of the cases and local regulations determined by city ordinances governing soliciting and door-to-door sales:

* Permit and registration requirements

Many cities require door-to-door salespeople to have licenses.  However, in the famous 2002 Supreme Court case: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc. v. Village of Stratton, Ohio, the court ruled this did not apply to religious proselytizing, distribution on handbills, and anonymous political speech. Therefore, it was deemed unconstitutional to require licensing for door-to-door solicitors representing these groups or for handbills from these same entities.

* Time restrictions

A U.S. Supreme Court precedent was set in 1987 with the case of: City of Watseka v. Illinois Public Action Council where the Court struck down an Illinois city’s ordinance barring all door-to-door soliciting before 9 A.M., after 5 P.M. and on Sundays and holidays, ruling it was a violation of the right to free speech.  This remains the Federal ruling on this matter.

* Solicitation Bans

Other attempts have been made by states, cities, and local municipalities to restrict door-to-door soliciting.  However, when challenged these are struck down by previous Supreme Court rulings.

To discover your local rulings regarding soliciting, go to your local state or city website and either find the link or give them a call.  If you can’t easily find the government site you’re looking for, here is a good place to begin:

http://www.statelocalgov.net/

Common questions about ‘no soliciting’ signs

What can I do if there is no ordinance or state law prohibiting soliciting?

Post a “No Soliciting” sign.  Just having the sign visible on your property is usually enough to deter most door-to-door salespeople.  Remember, even if there is no local ordinance strictly prohibiting soliciting, there are laws against trespassing.

Is it legal to post a ‘no soliciting’ sign even if there is no local ordinance or state law prohibiting or restricting soliciting?

Just as door-to-door solicitors have a right to free speech, so does the business owner or homeowner have the right to post a “no soliciting” sign on his or her property.  The only thing to remember is that you cannot use the sign to single out a particular group. For instance, you could have trouble if you posted a sign stating, “No Soliciting by Munchkins”.  You would not be violating any laws if the sign just said, “No Soliciting”.

What about laws regarding trespassing?  Don’t they apply to solicitors?

One of the legal definitions of trespass is, “the willful entry or remaining  upon any land or building after having been warned by the owner or occupant not to trespass (to enter the land or property of another without permission).”

For a residence, sufficient warning to a would-be trespasser includes any of the following:

putting up a fence; or

making an oral or written demand to any guest to vacate the land or building.

Placing a clearly visible “No Soliciting” sign on your property is enough of a warning to invoke trespassing laws.

Do “No Soliciting” signs apply to religious groups?

The answer to this depends on where the sign is posted. The Supreme Court and several lower courts have ruled that the distribution of free literature and the giving of personal invitations cannot, by law, be restricted in the United States.

This means a “no solicitation” sign, posted at the entrance to a neighborhood, an apartment complex, or a mobile home park cannot legally prevent church visitation or proselytizing from taking place.

However, a “no solicitation” sign posted on an individual residence must by law be respected, and ignoring the sign could leave the visitor open to a trespassing charge.  

What do I do if solicitors ignore my sign?

Laws regulating salespeople are mostly written at the city or county level. Some cities and counties ban salespeople from violating a No Soliciting sign, while others don’t.

If you find salespeople ignore your, “No Soliciting” sign, the first thing to do is make sure the sign is easily seen and the wording is clear.  Then, if salespeople and other solicitors continue to knock on your door or approach you in your place of business, speak with them about it. Tell them you don’t want to talk to them.  Be as blunt as you like, without being threatening or rude. If a salesperson keeps coming back, call the company they work for and complain. If you are receiving flyers from a restaurant, construction company, or the like and want this to stop, just call the company.  

In the unlikely situation that you have invited a salesperson into your home and they refuse to leave – call the police.

Where to find your state’s solicitation laws

To discover your local rulings regarding soliciting, go to your local state or city website and either find the link or give them a call.  If you can’t easily find the government site you’re looking for, here is a good place to begin:

http://www.statelocalgov.net/

The overriding law in the U.S. as stated in the Constitution and reaffirmed by various Appellate Courts and the Supreme Court of the United States is that soliciting from door-to-door is an expression of the Right to Free Speech.  

This right is balanced by the rights to privacy and laws pertaining to trespassing.

However, putting aside the Federal laws and local ordinances, the best protection from solicitors remains the humble “No Soliciting” sign.

Create or order your custom “no soliciting” sign to keep your house solicitor-free with BestofSigns.com!

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