November 9, 2006 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
We live in an older, very pretty part of town, with lots of mature trees — trees that need trimming fairly often. Both local and out of town tree service companies know this, and on what seems to be a weekly basis, business cards or flyers are stuck in our door, or merely tossed on our driveway or on the front lawn.
We are both retired and often spend two or three days out of town. You can bet money, when we return, there will be at least two business cards from tree trimmers or soft water companies stuck in the door, and there is no way of knowing how long they have been there, advertising to the public, “No One Is Home.”
This is an invitation to being burglarized. Do you have a suggestion on how to stop these thoughtless people from creating a real danger? I should tell you that three families on our street are joining in this request for your advice — we are all longtime readers and feel that we know you, after reading so many of your articles. I hope you do not find this to be trivial, or think that we do not have more important things to worry about, because we truly are concerned. Thanks, Hal, Eugene and Florence, from Hanford.
Not trivial at all
I am often asked, “Where do you get your story ideas?” Most come from questions submitted by readers. I reply to every e-mail, phone call or fax, and there is no such thing as a trivial or silly legal question. There is nothing trivial about this situation, as I have been asked the same question often over the years: How can I stop these companies from dumping their unrequested advertising material on my property?
The usual scenario is that some high school student-or more often these days, an undocumented illiterate worker-is given a stack of business cards or brochures and told to leave one stuck in the front door of every house on the block, or just to drop cards on the front porch or driveway. This obligates the home owner to remove and read the card, the idea being that maybe just maybe there will be some business generated. Who cares that, for certain people in our aging population, the act of bending down isn’t the easiest of tasks.
Is this legally wrong?
The only way to make inconsiderate people straighten up is to hit them in the pocketbook, or scare them into thinking that you will. So the first question to ask: “Is there anything illegal, per se, about someone coming onto your property and distributing advertising literature or business cards?” In general, not unless you have informed them that solicitors are not welcome and will be considered as trespassers. To begin with, you can do this with a “No Solicitors” sign, clearly posted.
To find out what the Arborist (Tree Trimming industry) says about this problem, I phoned a number of trade associations all over the country. Virtually all agreed that this is a common form of advertising, and can indeed be a problem, “given the impression that no one is home, and an invitation to break in,” Donna Sheets, Executive Director of the Indiana Nursery and Landscaping Association told me. “I get them all the time, and my way of dealing with it is to ask my neighbors to see if things are stuck in the front door and to remove them. Donna agrees that posting a No Soliciting sign, and politely calling these companies is an initial first step to take.
Lee Gilman, a staff arborist with the Tree Care Industry Association in Manchester, New Hampshire (Formerly National Arborist Association) believes that door to door solicitation is “relevant especially when tree trimmers are actively working in the neighborhood, where a company has a business presence in this area. This can result in lowering the cost of tree trimming to other neighbors by improving efficiency with jobs that are clustered.”
“The best way of dealing with this is a No Solicitation sign, prominently visible, and placed when the family is going to be out of town. If the company continues to drop cards, depending upon local ordinances, it could easily be a violation of law and should be reported. This is of course applicable to all trades that solicit in this manner. Additionally, a phone call or polite letter, asking that they do not solicit should work with a reputable company, and, along with the No Solicitation sign, should be the first steps to take. Our industry is aware that some businesses do abuse this form of prospecting and we are sympathetic with your readers concerns.”
Mr. Gilman was quick to add, “If the nice approach does not work, then call the Better Business Bureau, and consider having an attorney send a stern letter, telling them to knock it off?”
Mark Garvin is VP of Public Policy oat the Tree Care Industry Association, and agrees that, “California has a really bad problem with so many unlicensed tree trimmers who seem to flaunt the law. It’s not just flyers, and that is not specific to tree care companies. We recommend that you check to see if they are licensed contractors. The web site is www.cslb.ca.gov. If not, a complaint to the local police department could be made that an unlicensed tree service is soliciting business.”
Clearly, having neighbors watch out for you is a good suggestion, as well as a No Solicitation sign. Also, why not a Beware of Dog sign in several languages-it might just work wonders!
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.