No Solicitors? How Texas Allows Cities to Regulate Door-to-Door Visitors
When it comes to doorbell ringers, a parade of possibilities emerges: fundraisers, salesmen and religious organizations. Businesses seeking to sell home services, such as security or repairs, are typically among the peddlers.
Can a city in Texas outright ban door-to-door solicitors?
The Texas Local Government Code generally gives municipalities the power to act in a way that “is for the good government, peace, or order of the municipality or for the trade and commerce of the municipality.” The Code also specifically authorizes cities to “license, tax, suppress, prevent, or otherwise regulate: (1) hawkers; (2) peddlers; and (3) pawnbrokers.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that cities have broad authority to regulate peddlers to prevent fraud and protect residents’ privacy; however, First Amendment concerns probably would prohibit cities from completely banning all peddlers, solicitors, and canvassers from public and private property. Peddlers (who are seeking only to transact business) have fewer protections than solicitors (who might be asking for donations to a political or religious organization) or canvassers (who are merely seeking or distributing information).
A city’s main concern should be avoiding unlawful discrimination. It may regulate peddlers and solicitors so long as it treats all vendors selling similar goods alike, and an ordinance regulating peddlers is subject to the equal protection clauses of the Texas and U.S. Constitutions.
- According to the code procedures, once an application is filed, should a city secretary wait five days and then approve the application?
The wording of the code is a little confusing. Section 111.24(A) says that within five business days after receipt of an application, “any person may file written objections with the Mayor.” Then section 111.24(B) says that the Mayor shall, “within five business days, either approve or disapprove the application for a license.” Does that mean five business days after the receipt of the application, or after the receipt of the objections? It would make sense for there to be a five-business-day waiting period after the application to see if any objections are filed, then a five-business-day period for the Mayor to approve or disapprove the application. It might be worthwhile to tweak this section to make it more clear. Until then, to be absolutely sure, I would recommend waiting ten business days after receipt of the application to approve or disapprove.
- Is a city authorized to do background checks on the applicants? Is a statement regarding background checks required on the application?
A city is authorized to do background checks on the applicants, as long as it does not use the background checks to discriminate unlawfully against the applicants. A city is entitled to verify that the applicant does not pose a threat of fraud or crime. General law cities are specifically authorized by statute to charge fees for peddlers’ licenses; the Texas Attorney General has opined that cities may charge vendors “an amount reasonably necessary to cover its administrative and regulatory costs or reasonably related to its legitimate licensing objective.”
- Should the license, if granted, expire after a certain time period?
Yes; a city’s governing body may direct the manner of issuing the license and set the fees, but the license must not be for more than a year. City ordinances routinely provide for the expiration of such licenses.
- What information may be requested in a peddler application?
There are no statutory requirements for the actual form of the license application. Section 111.18 of the code of ordinances states that an application “shall” (must) give the following information:
(A) Name, date of birth, home address and local address, if any, of applicant;
(B) Name and address of the person, firm or corporation, if any, that he or she represents, or from whom or through whom, orders are to be solicited or cleared;
(C) Nature of the goods or services which are to be sold, or for which orders are to be solicited;
(D) Whether applicant, upon any sale or order, shall demand or receive or accept payment or deposit of money, in advance of final delivery;
(E) A statement that the applicant has not been convicted of any felonies of any nature or any other crimes of moral turpitude in this state or any other state; or if having been so convicted, a full statement as to the place of conviction, date of conviction and crime for which applicant was convicted;
(F) Period of time which applicant wishes to engage in the activity of peddling in a city; and
(G) Any other information requested by a city.
In sum, an outright ban on door-to-door peddling, soliciting and canvassing could raise First Amendment arguments, but the Texas Local Government Code does provide for cities to regulate such activities.
Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.
Drew Shirley is a Houston attorney with experience in tort and business litigation and business and real estate transactions. Shirley graduated cum laude from Duke University, then received two advanced degrees – a master’s in journalism and a law degree – from the University of Texas at Austin. He joined the Randle Law Office in 2015.