No Soliciting - What Does It Mean?

What results can you legally expect after posting a 'No Soliciting' sign at your house and/or at the entrance to your HOA community? Well, as is true with many things, the answer is, 'it depends'.

I recently learned this lesson the hard way at the HOA where I live, so here's my 'rant'. We have a 'No Soliciting, No Trespassing' sign at both entrances to our community. The roads are privately owned by our HOA, but not gated. The signs are of the legally correct size and obvious to anyone that cares to note their presence. Yet, we continually have people coming to the doors of each home - sometimes they are from restaurants leaving menus, businesses leaving flyers about their services, and/or religious groups with tracts and a penchant for a long winded discussion about their beliefs. Some knock on our doors, others just leave information.

As an HOA board member, I constantly receive calls from our residents pleading for action that will keep solicitors away.

The Concerns

  • Quiet Enjoyment - Many folks don't want to leave what they are doing to chat with a salesman, to convince a religious person why you really aren't interested, or to explain to someone what 'no soliciting' means - again and again.
  • Housing Issues - When a storm door has been installed, at no little expense, and is designed to keep the cold air out in the winter and bugs out in the summer, a tract stuck between the storm door and the frame defeats the purpose for the storm door.
  • People Issues - Those who work nights, don't want to be disturbed and awakened during their sleep times. Those with little children don't want them awakened by a knock on the door or by the sound of the door bell.
  • Litter Issues - Most HOA's are particular about litter. If the tract is not secured, it is often blown around the neighborhood requiring someone else to pick up the mess.
  • Crime Prevention - Those involved in Neighborhood Watch programs do not like strangers walking through their community - thus the 'No Trespassing' signs. Security becomes even more problematic when strangers are going up to each and every home.
  • Community Rules - If a community owns its own roads, is gated, and posts 'No Trespassing' and 'No Soliciting' signs, don't they have a right to expect everyone to heed their signs - whether peddler, canvasser, politician, or religious proselytizer?

The Defense

  • Definitions - The word 'solicitation' obviously means different things to different people. It can mean prostitution, selling goods from door to door, or asking people for a moment of their time to hear an idea.
  • Federal Law - The Supreme Court has upheld the right to free speech which permits salesmen to sell and religious organizations to 'tell'.
  • City Codes - There are minutely defined differences between an itinerant merchant, a peddler, a solicitor, and a canvasser. A solicitor does not usually include charitable, patriotic, religious, or philanthropic organizations unless they are doing something that comes under some other laws. Cities codes, and maybe even HOA signage, can't prohibit what Federal law protects.

It's Complicated

  • Don't Assume The Laws Are Clear - In our particular HOA the police department has said that our 'No Soliciting, No Trespassing' signs at the two entrances to our community only apply to the 'common areas' within our community, but do no cover individual homes/units. They have told us that each home should have their own sign, yet in our HOA signs on doors, including 'No Soliciting' signs, are not permitted. The police said, change the rule, but may not realize just how difficult it is to change the bylaws of a HOA. On the other side of the issue, our city government says that the 'No Soliciting' signs at the entrance of our HOA community DO cover all homes/units within the community. Huh?
  • Don't Assume Definitions Are Agreed Upon - I recently confronted a religious person who had stuck a tract between my storm door and the frame. I told her that soliciting was not permitted in our HOA. She responded that what she was doing was NOT, legally speaking, solicitation. I responded, 'but you must know what most people mean when they post a sign that says, 'No Soliciting', right?' She remained unconvinced and recalcitrant.
  • But What If... - The same woman mentioned above excused her behavior by telling me that she lived within our HOA, therefore it was permissible for her to go out and 'meet' her neighbors. Ugh? Was she right?
  • No Signs on Doors, But... - If the police are correct, that the 'No Soliciting' sign at the entrance to our HOA does not cover individual units, AND the HOA cannot permit signs on the doors of units because of our ByLaws, yet folks can stick tracts in doors and hang them on door handles, what is a homeowner to do? Perhaps I could solicit myself and hang a 'No Soliciting' sign on my own door handle - as long as the letters meet city code for size.
  • Solutions? - Can a homeowner/tenant obtain a final, comprehensive, legal solution to this problem? Is there a way to stop unwanted strangers from leaving menus, tracts, business flyers at your door and from ringing the doorbell? Currently, after much research, in my city the answer is 'no'. What about in yours?

Let me 'solicit' your responses to all this. I know this can generate more rants, but we'd like to hear from those who have found legal solutions that balance the rights of free speech, freedom of religion, business rights, and yet also the rights of individuals to expect quiet enjoyment.