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Two Years In, ‘Cease and Desist’ Zone Curbing North Dover Real Estate Canvassing

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A 'Dont Sell, Toms River Strong' sign. (File Photo)
A ‘Dont Sell, Toms River Strong’ sign. (File Photo)

The knocks on doors would be constant, and come morning, dinner time, weekends and even holidays. Aggressive real estate canvassing in several North Dover neighborhoods swelled to a fever pitch about two years ago, leading Toms River to carve a “cease and desist” zone where no canvassing would be allowed for five years.

The areas in the zone border Lakewood, a town that has seen its population swell amid an influx of the Hasidic Jewish community. Since Toms River’s ordinance was approved in spring 2016, it’s been illegal to go door to door in those areas, soliciting residents to see if they’d like to sell their homes.

At the time, then-Business Administrator Paul Shives said the town was prepared for a legal fight, should any parties say the ordinance was illegal. But the township has not had to defend its ordinance against litigation, said Stacy Proebstle, township spokesperson.

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What’s more, no one has broken the moratorium on canvassing door to door in the zone, she said.

“Our Law Department says, to the best of their knowledge, no one has been cited under the restriction for violating the zone, and they believe the ordinance served its purpose,” she said.

Residents have still received solicitation via mail, in some cases hand-written letters or mass mailers, but the ordinance cannot outlaw sales pitches made by mail.

In order to determine the areas off-limits to real estate canvassing, Toms River first held a public hearing where residents packed the meeting to testify they received “intense, incessant, and intimidating” direct solicitations of real estate and observed tactics of blockbusting. As a result of those hearings, two areas were mapped out for the cease and desist zones in the 2016 ordinance.

Zone 1 is the Lakewood and Jackson borders of Toms River in the north and northwest, Route 70 to the south and Whitesville Road as its western border.

Zone 2 is the Lakewood border of Toms River, to Route 70, to New Hampshire Avenue, Riverwood Drive, Route 9 and Silverton Road as its southern border.

The moratorium is five years long, and allows for no more real estate canvassing permits to be issued anywhere in those zones.

Toms River requires anyone seeking to canvass to get a permit first through the township. The canvasser must list each and every street they want to canvas. The ordinance requiring this was approved shortly before the cease and desist zone ordinance.

Proebstle said the township attorney’s office is tasked with reviewing the permits to make sure none of the streets requested are in the cease and desist zone.

“As far as monitoring, it is done by the Township Attorney’s office. Standard procedure is for the Township Attorney’s office to review all applications for canvassing permits to determine compliance with the zone.  I cannot recall any instances of non-compliance,” she said.

In 2015, the year leading up to the cease and desist zone, 14 real estate canvassing permits were approved in Toms River.

However, in 2016, there were no applications made for any areas of Toms River, Proebstle said. That was also the year the cease and desist zone was made, though real estate canvassing is still allowed to occur if a canvasser applies for an area other than the off-limits area, and meets the canvassing requirements.

Last year, Toms River received 6 real estate canvassing applications of which 2 were approved, Proebstle said.

One approved permit, by Yoses Segal of Toma Real Estate of East County Line Road in Lakewood, allowed for solicitation around Pleasant Plains streets such as Sunset Avenue, Stevens Road and Pheasant Hollow in March and April 2017.

The other approved permit was for the same time period, and was made by another agent of Toma Real Estate, Joel Friedman. Friedman’s permit allowed for real estate canvassing around many of the same streets as the other permit, but includes Nobility Court, Dover Pines Avenue, and the Weatherly Park neighborhood.

Each of the 2017 permits and earlier ones approved are currently still on the township website, as public information.

As part of its report after the cease and desist zone public hearing, the township said it foresaw the trend of real estate canvassing would continue along more of the corridors that border Lakewood and Jackson. Since then, overdevelopment and approval of vacant land for residential development remain a hot-button issue for Toms River’s northern neighborhoods, leading to a referendum question as to whether the township should purchase land for open space to guard from further overdevelopment. The question overwhelmingly passed on the November 2017 general election day.

Most recently, Councilman Daniel Rodrick urged the township law department to examine how to rezone Toms River to prohibit further multi-family home development.

Residents who live outside of the cease and desist zone can still prevent solicitation from taking place at their door by signing up for the township’s no-knock list.

The no-knock list is everyone in town who has said they do not want to receive any solicitors at their door. The township clerk maintains the list and issues stickers for participants to put on their door. A solicitor who canvases at the home of someone on the no-knock list would be breaking the law.

Proebstle said there was a tremendous uptick in the number of no-knock signups in 2015, in the lead up to the cease and desist ordinance discussion. But the list itself is more than a decade old.

“The Township’s ‘No Knock’ ordinance has been in effect since 2004. As of today, 10,271 residents are registered for the ‘No Knock’ sticker. Between August and September of 2015, we saw an increase of 2,200 applications,” she said. At an October 2015 neighborhood watch meeting, 400 applications came in.

She said that since that time, the number of no-knock applications coming in each year are much less than 2015’s high.

For copies of the cease and desist zone ordinance or the real estate canvassing report, visit the township’s website, tomsrivertownship.com. To sign up for the no-knock list, visit http://tomsrivertownship.com/194-news/latest-news/1969-application-for-no-knock-2.