Although many cities and towns in the United States require canvassing permits, enforcement of statutes has been spotty, say contractors. One company owner in Idaho notes that in his market, while canvassers don't need an actual permit, “they ask us to check in with the sheriff's office.”

In the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, about 10% of jurisdictions require permits, says Rick Menendez, vice president of sales and marketing for sunroom and window contractor Melani Bros. In those that do, permits are easy to get, he adds. No background checks on canvassers or ID badges are needed. Just pay the modest cost of $25 and $5 per person per month.

The Enforcers But Brian Elias, who uses canvassing as a primary lead source, sees the permitting environment changing. “Some are lenient,” says the owner of Hanson's Windows and Siding, in Fraser, Mich., outside of Detroit. “They say, ‘Just go, we'll let the officers know you're out there today.' But others are tightening up on the permits and making them harder to get,” he notes. Some 25% of the locales where Hanson's canvasses now enforce their canvassing laws, Elias adds.

Permits still don't cost much, “although they add up to thousands of dollars,” when you have four or five crews working most days, as Hanson's Windows and Siding does. A bigger headache is the company's administrative expense. “Some cities are easy,” Elias explains. “They fax you the application, you fax it back and drop a check in the mail.” Others, however, “want every canvasser to go down to the city and get a badge.”

Doing Time There's also the threat of punishment. Canvassing without a permit is typically a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and possible jail time, for which the company owner is responsible. “The problem isn't the fine, it's some judge trying to make a point by giving you five days in jail,” Elias says.

As a result, Elias makes sure his company is compliant. “It used to be: Just go. Now it's a question of planning. If you're going to be working an area one week, you get the permits the week before,” he says.