Credit: Edwin Fotheringham

More and more townships, municipalities, and homeowners associations are regulating canvassing. Ignoring those rules can see you escorted from neighborhoods or may even result in vehicle impoundment or arrest.

TOWN-BY-TOWN PROCESS Canvassing consultant Chris Thompson, of Canvass King (, says that rules and restrictions laid down by local governments are “all over the board. It's a town-by-town process.”

Attorney D.S. Berenson, of Johanson Berenson LLP, a Virginia law firm that represents many construction companies, agrees. As more companies canvass, a “patchwork quilt” of different regulations by local jurisdictions has evolved. To obtain a permit for canvassers in some townships might involve filling out a licensing form and paying a modest fee. Other jurisdictions up the fee to $100 per day or more and require background checks, including fingerprinting, and continuous fee renewal. “They are there not so much to protect residents' privacy as to hamper the activity,” Berenson says.

Managing canvassing restrictions is crucial to Tom Slicko, sales manager at AAA Windows, Siding and Roofing, in Lincoln, Ill., where a successful canvassing operation has increased the company's sales by a third in the last two years. Slicko says that when it comes to red tape and canvassing, attitudes of municipalities, townships, and neighborhoods fall into three general categories: “They're extremely tough, or they just want to know you're in town, or they don't really care.”

KNOW THE RULES Slicko says that in communities with tough restrictions, residents are generally not open to canvassing anyway. He suggests calling the local police department before going into areas where you've never canvassed. Police should know the rules, or will refer you to a permitting department that does. If you're looking to send a canvassing crew into new territory, be sure to:

  • Train canvassers in how to politely respond to the arrival of police. Develop and use a script.
  • Avoid behavior that upsets homeowners and thus invites a police call. For instance, knocking too loudly on the door or knocking for too long; ignoring “No Soliciting” signs.
  • Look at the canvassing statute to see what the operative terms are, run it by an attorney, and have him produce a letter indicating how you're in compliance. Furnish that letter to canvassers or to the canvassing manager.
  • Go elsewhere if police arrive and say you can't canvass.
  • “Rarely do you have a problem if you handle it properly,” Thompson says.