Taking Action: Soliciting in Huntsville

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Summer is a prime time for door-to-door solicitation. In Huntsville, solicitors have to be approved for a permit and they're required to wear a badge.

But people who live in some areas of Huntsville may have noticed one questionable man stumbling through their neighborhood selling DVD's recently. The man was wearing a 'City of Huntsville Master Solicitor' badge. However, he's not an employee.

On Wednesday, the man approached me at my own home, and tried to sell me a 'Native American Artifacts' DVD. Some of you may have had the same experience, maybe even with this same man. He was a little unkempt and not very steady on his feet.

However, he was wearing an approved badge proving he's allowed to sell his merchandise door-to-door.

I wondered about the process of obtaining one of those badges, and found out it's not easy for the city to take it away.

A 2012 Huntsville city ordinance mandates solicitors need to have a permit and badge. They also need to be approved for both.

Sgt. Mark Roberts works closely with that ordinance. He said, "if any of these solicitors are actually convicted of violating this ordinance, we will pull their license from them. And that's been done before in the City of Huntsville."

Matthew Hill is a solicitor and has a permit. He also has an extensive arrest record. Hill has had 27 run-ins with the law since November, 2005.
The most recent arrest was on Tuesday, when police charged him with public intoxication, doing business without a license, and resisting arrest. He was out of jail Wednesday morning, and showed up at my door step around 1:00 that same day.

But those misdemeanors aren't enough for the city or police to legally revoke a permit. Sgt. Roberts said it usually takes a felony charge.

"Felonies are mostly what it is, but there's a list of disqualifying factors. So, they are required to acknowledge if they've been arrested for any of those disqualifying charges."

It's basically a trust factor.  Hill hasn't done anything that goes against the ordinance, he just has multiple public intoxication convictions, according to court documents.

But, the same city ordinance that permits solicitation also offers a solution to unwanted porch guests. Sgt. Roberts says there's a few guidelines they have to follow.

  • Solicitation hours are 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  •  Sellers can't be deceptive in their practices, they do not work for the City of Huntsville.
  •  If there's a 'no solicitation' sign in plain sight, then no one can legally approach your home without your consent.

"If you put a 'no solicitation' sign on your door, then basically, no one is allowed to knock on your door and solicit," Sgt. Roberts said.

It can even be homemade. To avoid solicitors to begin with, just simply take a piece of paper or a piece of cardboard, write 'no soliciting' in big letters, then put it up in your window. It's illegal for a solicitor to even come on your property.

If a solicitor still approaches your home, call police. If a solicitor makes physical contact, call police. If they follow you into your home and you don't want them there, call police!

The  2012 ordinance states, if a person meets any of the following factors, they are disqualified from obtaining a city solicitation permit. If a person has been criminally convicted or has criminal charges pending for:

  • Homicide or manslaughter.
  • Abusing or exploiting a minor.
  • Selling or distributing controlled substances.
  • Sexual assault
  • Theft, robbery, burglary or assault.

Another big one, they can not obtain a license or a badge if they have been convicted of a felony, not a misdemeanor, in the last ten years.