HOWELL – Members of the Township Council have introduced a new ordinance that will regulate the canvassing and soliciting of real estate in the town.
The ordinance was introduced at the May 10 meeting after many residents raised concerns about the ongoing “harassment” they said they’ve been receiving from solicitors wanting to buy their home.
At the previous meeting, a resident who lives in the Heritage Pointe section of the township spoke about the problems her community is facing day to day with ongoing soliciting.
“The overly aggressive push to get us to sell our homes has shaken us. We will not be bullied. All of us had people come to our doors, hand written notes in our mailboxes and calls or texts to buy our houses when they aren’t even for sale,” Tracy Jones said.
Another resident from Heritage Pointe stepped forward at the May 10 meeting to discuss the ongoing issues her family as well as her neighbors have been dealing with.
“Tonight, I have come to address ongoing issues in Howell, specifically Heritage Pointe residents. Don’t think for a second though that this is limited or stops in our development,” Lucrezia Holmes said. “As you are aware, last week one of my neighbors spoke about the continued efforts occurring in our neighborhood.”
Holmes spoke about the direct interactions many of them have faced and still face today. Examples she listed included: “blocking our driveways; approaching my children and others at our playground asking to take videos of them on our playground. This is a child that was directly approached by an adult; circling the streets while taking photos of our homes; calling and texting with offers; and placing offers in our mailbox.”
“This is the definition of blockbusting,” Holmes said.
She explained how they still received notes in the mail and more even after posting a “No Knock” sticker on their door. Holmes claimed that the man who had put the note in their mail box had been parked outside their property for hours just starting at their house.
“We were told by you and others to alert the authorities. Please understand that we have. Yes, we have license plate numbers of these solicitors. Yes, some people have been pulled over by local police and spoken to. But it continues the next day and the day after that,” Holmes said.
Holmes also noted that even with the No Knock sticker, the harassment still continues.
“We call the police yet people are canvassing our neighborhood the very next day,” she said.
Holmes said that those registered on the solicitor list, which is available to the public, have not approached them or neighbors. She said those who continue to come knocking at her door are not on the registered solicitor list and are violating the town’s ordinance.
She asked the council if the fines associated with solicitation can be increased. Township Attorney Joseph Clark said there is a cap set by state laws on how large the fines can be. He said the maximum is $2,000 per violation.
Clark said the new ordinance is specifically aimed at canvassing for the purpose of the purchase of real estate and it’s different than the No Knock ordinance.
Clark also noted how he researched and found that Toms River Township has a similar ordinance regarding solicitors, and based the new ordinance off of it. The new ordinance also prohibits solicitation materials in the mailbox. It only allows them to go through the postal service.
“Right now, we’re introducing certainly something to ban the unwanted solicitation for the purchase of real estate,” Clark said.
In addition, the ordinance states the possibility of assigning days for registered solicitors to approach homes within the town.
“It’s frustrating when your child comes to you and says ‘Mom someone asked to take a video of me on our playground.’ Thankfully my kids know better. But at this point my kids are afraid to play outside. They don’t want people staring at them while they ride their bikes and them asking ‘hey which one is your house. Do you have a basement?’” Holmes said.
“I’m very sorry that you’re dealing with this. It’s intrusive,” Mayor Theresa Berger.
“I just wanted to bring this to your attention, that this is the everyday life that we are living in Heritage Pointe and now it’s starting to move into other developments,” Holmes said.
After the public comment portion of the meeting ending, all five council members voted “yes” to introduce the ordinance.