Some Butler communities reviewing solicitor rules

Other Butler County communities are taking another look at local laws after Liberty Twp., facing a federal lawsuit, extended the hours solicitors are allowed to come knocking on residents’ doors.

The township established a curfew of 5 p.m. a decade ago but recently was forced to extend the time to 9 p.m. after a lawsuit filed by a pest control company claimed the early curfew impeded on its free speech rights. Before the curfew was extended, residents had complained about solicitors knocking on doors late at night and using aggressive tactics.

Solicitation hours across Butler County communities vary as well as fees for permits and penalties for those who approach homes with “no solicitation” signs on them.

“Laws limiting the ability to solicit have been subject to ongoing scrutiny by the courts,” Middletown Law Director Les Landen told the Journal-News. “We are in the process of reviewing some recent case law and its impact on our ordinance in an effort to maintain a constitutionally permissible regulation of the practice.”

The earliest curfew in Butler County — 6 p.m. — can be found in Fairfield Twp. and Trenton.

Oxford will join Liberty Twp. with a 9 p.m. deadline for solicitors after city council approves amendments that are in the works. The city currently prohibits solicitation, which is against the law.

“It’s outdated and we have not been enforcing that provision, obviously because it’s unconstitutional,” Oxford City Manager Doug Elliott said.

Courts have determined that door-to-door soliciting is free speech and thus protected by the First Amendment.

“In modern society, some people are skeptical and even afraid of visitors to their homes. On the other hand, the first amendment protects religious expression and commercial speech. The government’s charge is to balance those competing interests in an effective, yet open, manner,” Landen said.

Craig Ratzman, who runs the Cincinnati branch for Aptive Environmental — the pest control company that sued the township — said all 12 of the solicitors who were working in Liberty Twp. this summer are background checked and trained to be respectful, contrary to what some residents have said during trustee meetings.

“We have a lot of business there in the township, so I would say that if we were disrespectful it would show otherwise. We wouldn’t have the business there …”

Middletown’s only hourly restriction is that solicitors cannot go near schools between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Middletown does require permit applicants to post a $1,000 bond and pay a $25 fee.

Several communities, like Liberty Twp., charge a $50 permit fee and $5 for each additional solicitor.

The process for registering solicitors is pretty standard and relatively simple, according to Fairfield police Lt. Ken Colburn.

“The permits expire at the end of each calendar year,” he said. “We have the applicants fill out a one-page application and we run a background on each person. After the application is approved, we take a photo and make up an ID that must be displayed while soliciting.”

If solicitors violate the rules, including ringing a doorbell after hours, they can be fined up to $150 for the minor misdemeanor. Fairfield and Oxford treat violators at a higher misdemeanor level with a maximum fine of $500.

Liberty Twp. plans to purchase equipment this winter to make photo IDs for registered solicitors. For now, though, the township has ordered 4,000 “no soliciting” signs that will be given to residents for free starting Sept. 6.

The signs, trustees said, are a resident’s best defense now if they do not want solicitors visiting their homes.

“For right now, no solicitation signs are the number one enforcement,” Liberty Twp. Trustee President Tom Farrell said. “If I’m going to solicit to an area and every other house has a no solicitation, where am I going? The point is together we can fix it.”

Marlene Mundy, president of the Logsdon's Ridge subdivision, said homeowners need to realize a "no solicitors" sign posted at the entrance to a subdivision does not cover the whole neighborhood, everyone must post their own sign.

“Most people don’t know that, most people have no clue, that (sign) carries no weight whatsoever,” she said.

Trustees said it is imperative for people to not only post the signs, but to also get the name of a person and their company as well as a photo if they come soliciting. Then call the police and the township.

Chris Keitel, HOA board president of the Providence Ridge subdivision, questions if that is the best use of law enforcement resources.

“Our police department can’t be responding every time somebody calls up and says ‘somebody was at my door five minutes ago, but they are gone now and I’d like you to come out and try to find them’,” he said.

West Chester Twp. has a 7 p.m. curfew and does not require permits for solicitors, but they are asked to register with the police department. There have been 132 complaints about solicitors in West Chester Twp. so far this year, according to spokeswoman Barb Wilson. However, she said, the majority of the complaints aren’t about salespeople but peddlers begging for cash.

“We do get the others (door-to-door). It just hasn’t escalated to that point at this time,” she said referring to Liberty Twp.

Officials in Fairfield, Fairfield Twp., Hamilton, Middletown, Monroe, Oxford, Ross Twp. and Trenton said they are not having problems with an onslaught of soliciting scofflaws.

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