BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- Some residents have apparently asked officials to see if there is a way to stop solicitors from coming to their homes. This prompted the council to consider whether to adopt a so-called “No Knock” ordinance which would amend the current rules on licenses for peddlers, solicitors, and canvassers.

Councilwoman Susan Poage gave a slide-show presentation on the proposed ordinance during the conference session of the April 28 meeting of the council. The ordinance has been updated to include modern language, update definitions, fees, fines, and more.

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The ordinance is being introduced because “some residents have a level of discomfort with persons peddling, selling, or soliciting goods, wares, etc. on private property,” according to a slide in the presentation. The new ordinance will give residents an opportunity to choose if they want licensed solicitors coming to their home and knocking.

If adopted, licensed solicitors, vendors and canvassers will be subject to a fine if they go to a home on the No Knock list.

When solicitors apply for a permit, they will get a copy of the list. The solicitors must pick up an up-to- date list when they are ready to begin their licensed solicitation and will be required to carry and refer to it when soliciting. The list will only contain addresses, no names.

Some groups, including local non-profits, such as the Girl and Boy scouts, band boosters and other charitable groups, will still be able to knock. The key work is LOCAL. “Non-profits that are not located in or that do not have a substantial membership from within the township are required to be licensed and abide by the No-Knock Lists if they are soliciting donations or contributions,” according to the presentation.

To get on the list, residents can register in writing to the township clerk, Poage said.

Certain groups, including religious, non-profit and political campaigns, are protected by the U.S. Constitution and may exercise their first amendment rights and the proposed ordinance is not intended to infringe upon those rights.

If the ordinance is adopted, and a solicitor knocks on the door of someone on the list, the violation can and should be reported to the township. The violator can be penalized with a fine as high as $500.

To be removed from the list, residents can simply notify the clerk in writing, Poage said, and the clerk will update the list when properties are sold. 

During a council discussion about the ordinance as it is currently written, Councilman Manuel Couto questioned how the Municipal Clerk would keep track of people who are renting a home. “Unless the clerk is given a notice that the tenant has moved out, the list is then inaccurate. He asked if Township Attorney Kraig Dowd could make a change in that portion of the ordinance.  

Township Clerk Ana Minkoff said, “I think it’s hard as they sell for me to monitor that. It is a little difficult.” She asked if the list was attached to the address or the person living in the home? 

Councilwoman Jeanne Kingsley said there are a number of “towns that have their No Knock registry form updated annually. The onus is on the resident … the forms are right on the website.”

Minkoff said those people who are not good with the internet could call the clerk’s office to get a form.

The suggestions will go to Dowd, who will rework the ordinance.

Kingsley also said she thought the proposed $50 fee for the solicitor’s license was too low. She said she researched it and discovered in New Jersey the fees go from $50 up to $500 and asked “between clerk time, legal time and police time, what are we spending on this? We should not be spending taxpayers’ dollars to process these.” 

Poage said the old fee was $350.

Councilman Alvaro Medeiros said the fee that the township would charge would be for each person who would be working as a solicitor in the township, not for the organization and all solicitors.

Poage asked how many licenses were issued in a year -- “last year at least 25,” said Minkoff.

Township Administrator Liza Viana said if people want a sticker to make it obvious they are on the No Knock list, the township could email a downloadable sticker which people could print and place in the window. 

Couto asked if the ordinance would also apply to realtors, pointing out that if there is an open house in the area many realtors put on door hangers or drop off newsletters.

The mayor said she has had realtors stop by and let her know there is a house around the corner which is having an open house or has just come on the market. The question is whether this is a solicitation or not.

Couto said he would like to have a clarification in the ordinance, since it is a gray area.

Kingsley said they should rely on the definitions in the ordinance.

Several residents raised issues about the proposed ordinance.

Josh Bochner said courts have found placing limits on fundraising by non-profits “unconstitutional” and have favored permitting solicitation between 9 a.m. and 9 p..m., seven days a week. The new No Knock ordinance has shorter hours.

He also questioned the portions of the ordinance which differentiate between non-profit organizations with a substantial membership from the township, who are exempt from the license fee, and those that will be soliciting in hopes of gaining membership from the township, who have to pay a fee.

Poage asked Bochner to send her his notes on the issues he raised.

Richard Matula said he thought the ordinance would be a “degradation of my property rights,” as it does not distinguish between who owns or rents the property. He also asked “How many people are bothered … Where is the data?” 

Dr. Tom Foregger agreed with Matula and Bochner. 

Charlie Pratt suggested the No Knock list be handled as are dog licenses, "Renew annually, as of Dec. 31, the old form goes in the trash can. You want to renew, sign back up." 

Downtown Bingo and Other Business

Kingsley reported on a recent meeting of the Downtown Beautification Committee (DBC) and its latest idea on how to support local businesses -- “Downtown BH Bingo,” which begins on May 1 and runs through May 10.

Residents can download the Bingo cards and rules from the website. For full details, check out the article on TAPinto Berkeley Heights here.

The DBC is hoping the volunteers who adopted a “Welcome to Berkeley Heights” sign last year will do so again this year. If there are people who would like to adopt a sign, reach out to Kingsley, Couto, or email DBC@bhtwp.com.

Normally at this time of year the DBC is asking businesses to help beautify the township by funding the hanging flower baskets in the downtown area. Because of COVID-19, the DBC is issuing a challenge to neighborhood groups, book clubs, or other organizations to adopt a basket. Any neighborhood that wants to take part in this program can contact Kingsley, Couto or email DBC@bhtwp.com.

More than 400 people responded to the Commuter Task Force survey. The results of the survey are being compiled and the task force will meet and come up with some recommendations for the governing body, said Kingsley.

Medeiros thanked the YMCA and Rotary Club for referring seniors to Berkeley Heights’ Neighbors Helping Neighbors, which will provide free masks to seniors. To get one, call 908-312-2066.

He also said he was concerned about people who are living alone, especially seniors, who may not have access to Zoom or other ways to connect with friends or family. He asked residents to reach out to people they know who are living alone that they haven’t seen in a while -- “maybe make a sign expressing you do care and want to hear from them … I want to encourage people to reach out to their neighbors.”

Poage said the Planning Board will meet on May 6, and Connell is the topic. She also attended a “Zoom meeting with the traffic engineer, the mayor, and council president to talk to residents of Twin Falls Road and that was a very interesting discussion.”

Councilman Stephen Yellin said, “Neighbors Helping Neighbors is now recruiting volunteers who would be available to maintain regular contact with seniors, should they reach out to us … more details will be available in the future.”

Viana said bulk pickup will begin on May 4, and it starts with Section 2. To find out which section you live in, visit the website here. The Communications Committee has it set up so all alerts come directly to one’s phone. Go to the website and click on sign up, here