To Knock Or Not To Knock That Is The Question

To Knock Or Not To Knock That Is The Question

By: CHRIS M JOHNSON - Plum Tree Realty; Lexington, KY

It is common to find entire neighborhoods controlled by an HOA that post signs at the entrance of the neighborhood that say "no soliciting" or something similar. There seems to be debate among many Realtors as to whether it is appropriate to knock on a door in such a neighborhood. 

Some argue that it is illegal if a "no soliciting" sign is posted at the neighborhood entrance. Others say that it is unprofessional and view it as an invasion of someone's personal space and should never be done. Some cite sleeping babies, night workers etc as to why they feel it inappropriate.

Perhaps some Realtors are not comfortable with knocking on doors and for this reason lean towards the "do not disturb" mindset, while other Realtors have no qualms about it. 

Before we get into whether or not it is professional or unprofessional and the reasons why a Realtor personally might not want to knock on someone's door, lets answer the question:  NEIGHBORHOOD & HOA "NO SOLICITING" SIGNS. ARE THEY ENFORCEABLE?

The simple answer is: NO they are not. However there is one caveat which I will go on to explain later. The first amendment to the US 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.”

What does this mean? Basically it means that anyone wishing to express an opinion, offer a service or canvass a neighborhood have the constitutional right to do so. In fact a 1976 supreme court ruling upheld free speech for commercial purposes, meaning that someone even has the constitutional right to offer a service for sale or hire.

That does not mean that an individual homeowner has no right to privacy on their property as I will go on to explain later. . .

There are multiple examples of municipalities who have tried to enact ordinances banning neighborhood canvassing or "soliciting" all together or requiring permits. However, the US Supreme Court have routinely struck down such ordinances as unconstitutional. Note the following case examples:

Watchtower Bible & Tract Society Inc. vs. Village of Stratton https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/536/150.html 

Dublirer vs. Linwood Avenue Owners Inc. https://caselaw.findlaw.com/nj-supreme-court/1685374.html

Ohio Citizen Action vs. City of Englewood https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-6th-circuit/1592764.html 

The reason the courts have ruled that ordinances, neighborhood association and HOA rules that strictly prohibit soliciting are unconstitutional is because the decision whether or not to listen to a "solicitor" is up to the individual homeowner. A blanket policy would infringe on the first amendment right of the "solicitor" and the right of the homeowner to listen.

An exception to the right to canvass is if a neighborhood controlled by an HOA can only be accessed by a private road that is maintained by the private funds collected by the homeowners. Even then, if someone is invited by an individual homeowner in such a community then the first amendment right of the homeowner to listen and the right of the one invited apply. 

Courts have ruled that if public/tax payer funds are used to maintain the streets, sidewalks, street lights etc. then an HOA has no legal right to enforce a no soliciting policy within that neighborhood based on first amendment rights.

So then, do individual homeowners have any recourse if they do not want someone knocking on their doors? Yes, a homeowner may post on their private property a "no soliciting" sign or something similar expressing their desire not to be disturbed. Courts have ruled such signs as legally enforceable.

Now back to the debate. Should a Realtor knock on doors in a neighborhood with posted "no soliciting" signs? Should they knock on doors at all? What are the professional implications of doing so? 

Obviously the individual right for someone to knock on doors has been established and many Realtors have actually found great success by canvassing a neighborhood, introducing themselves and leaving a business card some other type of promotional material.

For those who argue that it is simply unprofessional to disturb others in their homes I would say that aside from it being a Realtors constitutional right to canvass a neighborhood if they so choose, that it can also be done in a professional way. Simply knocking on doors in itself does not make a Realtor unprofessional.

For example, if a Realtor sees a sign that indicates the homeowners desire not to be disturbed and they knock anyway then this is not only unprofessional in my opinion but it can also be illegal. I would also argue that there is a professional standard in the way a Realtor presents them self, how loud they knock, what they say and how they say it that has to be maintained simply not to defeat your purpose of being in the neighborhood to begin with. 

While discussing this topic of door knocking and solicitation recently with some fellow Realtors, the argument was made that the simple act of knocking on a door to introduce yourself and your service is not solicitation but rather a form of advertising. So then, What is the difference between Solicitation and Advertising? Stay tuned for the answer to that question in my next article. 


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Phone: 859-382-9398
Dated: October 30th 2019
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