scenic picture from Washington state
SubjectsLegalNuisances › Regulation of Peddlers, Solicitors, Temporary Merchants and Mobile Vendors
Updated 07/2014

Regulation of Peddlers, Solicitors, Temporary Merchants and Mobile Vendors

Contents

Introduction

Cities, towns, and counties have authority under their police power to license and regulate door-to-door peddlers, solicitors, temporary merchants, and mobile vendors, and to impose reasonable license fees. Such regulations are generally justified if they bear a reasonable relationship to public health, safety, and welfare concerns. Any ordinance that totally prohibits door-to-door solicitation may be subject to challenge and should be carefully reviewed by legal counsel. This page provides sample ordinance provisions and license applications. For persons interested in reading the legal background to regulating door-to-door peddlers, solicitors, temporary merchants, and mobile vendors a summary has been included in the Court Decisions section of the page.

Drafting Ordinances - Statutes

Ch. 36.71 RCW - Peddlers' and Hawkers' Licenses

In drafting provisions for the regulation of peddlers, local governments should review the provisions of Ch. 36.71 RCW relating to "Peddlers and Hawkers' Licenses." RCW 36.71.090 restricts the ability of cities and towns to prohibit sales or require licenses for the sale of farm produce by farmers, gardeners, or other persons who have raised or gathered such produce. RCW 36.71.020 requires peddlers to obtain a license from the appropriate county official before peddling in any county of the state, and RCW 36.71.050 imposes penalties for peddling without a county license.

Regulation of Charitable Solicitors

In the area of charitable solicitation, cities and counties should refer to the provisions of Ch. 19.09 RCW requiring registration with the secretary of state and various information disclosures by persons and organizations that solicit funds from the public for public charitable purposes. RCW 19.09.100(11) recognizes local government authority to regulate charitable solicitation and requires organizations to "comply with all local governmental regulations that apply to soliciting for or on behalf of charitable organizations."

Regulation of door-to-door charitable solicitation including activities of religious organizations can involve constitutional issues of free speech and religious freedom. We advise consultation with your city or county's legal office when drafting regulations in this area. Many cities simply provide exemptions in their regulations for charitable and religious organizations.

"Green River" Ordinances

Municipal ordinances that prohibit solicitors, peddlers, and itinerant merchants from calling on private residences for the purpose of peddling or soliciting without the request or the invitation of the occupant are sometimes referred to as "Green River" ordinances (from the case of Town of Green River, Wyoming v. Fuller Brush Co., 65 F.2d 112 (10th Cir. 1933)). "Green River" ordinances entirely prohibit and declare the practice of uninvited house-to-house canvassing to be a nuisance.

Common Provisions of Ordinances

Ordinances regulating peddlers, solicitors, temporary merchants and/or mobile vendors commonly include the following types of provisions:

  • License Fees - Imposed on a yearly or daily basis
  • License Application Form - Requiring information concerning the proposed location of the activity, the estimated length of time the activity will be carried on, descriptions of merchandise being offered for sale, the hours of operation, and the names of references
  • Background Check - Primarily a check for any prior criminal records
  • License Revocation - Conditions for license revocation and appeal procedures
  • License Display - Requiring peddlers and solicitors to have in their possession and to display their license
  • Temporary Stands - Standards and conditions for temporary stands
  • Time and Place Restrictions - Include restrictions on hours of conducting business, prohibition where property owners post "No Peddling/Soliciting" signs, and requirements that temporary merchants locate their businesses in compliance with zoning codes
  • Exemptions - For nonprofit, charitable, and religious organizations and for farmers and gardeners selling fruits, vegetables, or other similar farm produce raised, gathered, or produced by such persons (per RCW 36.71.090)

Sample Ordinance Provisions

  • Asotin Municipal Code Ch. 5.08 - Commercial Solicitors and Itinerant Merchants - Suspends chapter during county fair
  • Bellingham Municipal Code
    • Ch. 6.08 - Business Licenses and Regulations – Carnivals and Sidewalk Vending
    • Ch. 6.18 - Canvassers and Solicitors - Requires background check
  • Edmonds Municipal Code Ch. 4.12 - Peddlers, Solicitors and Street Vendors - Requires investigation of applicant
  • Enumclaw Municipal Code Ch. 5.60 - Solicitors and Mobile Vendors
  • Puyallup Municipal Code Ch. 5.64 - Solicitors - Requires investigation of applicant
  • Redmond Municipal Code Ch. 5.08 - Peddlers, Solicitors, and Canvassers - Requires criminal history check
  • SeaTac Municipal Code Ch. 5.10 - Solicitors and Canvassers - Requires bond
  • Seattle
    • Seattle Ordinance No. 123566 - Establishes a pilot program to revitalize vacant and underused lots including general retail sales, services in a kiosk or similar temporary structure, mobile food or other vendors using a cart, trailer, van, or similar vehicle
    • Seattle Municipal Code Ch. 6.260 - Residential Sales - Selling goods or services where some part of the transaction occurs at the buyer's residence
  • Yakima Municipal Code Ch. 5.56 - Peddlers - Requires bond for certain solicitors requiring cash deposits, or taking orders for cash on delivery purchases (C.O.D.), or who require a contract of agreement to finance the sale of any goods, services or merchandise for future delivery, or for services to be performed in the future

Sample Application Forms

A growing number of cities are participating in the State of Washington Business Licensing Services.  See list of Participating Cities

Court Decisions

General

Municipal ordinances which prohibit solicitors, peddlers, and itinerant merchants from calling on private residences for the purpose of peddling or soliciting without the request or the invitation of the occupant are sometimes referred to as "Green River" ordinances [from the case of Town of Green River, Wyoming v. Fuller Brush Co., 65 F.2d 112 (10th Cir. 1933)]. "Green River" ordinances entirely prohibit and declare the practice of uninvited house-to-house canvassing to be a nuisance and misdemeanor punishable by fine and imprisonment (Rhyne, The Law of Local Government Operations, pp 495-496). Such ordinances have been upheld in the past by the United States Supreme Court. These types of ordinances have been ruled unconstitutional when they prohibit religious or noncommercial door-to-door solicitation. The U.S. Supreme Court on June 17, 2002 by a vote of 8-1, invalidated a Stratton, Ohio ordinance that required canvassers to register and obtain a permit from the mayor's office before going door-to-door promoting any cause (Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc. v. Village of Stratton). The Court held that the ordinance violated the First Amendment as it applied to religious proselytizing, anonymous political speech, and the distribution of handbills. See MRSC webpage, U.S. Supreme Court Says No Permit Required to Solicit for Religious Reasons.

Other decisions include Breard v. Alexandria, 341 U.S. 622, 95 L.Ed 1233, 71 S.Ct. 920 (1951). The Breard decision was decided at a time when "commercial speech" was thought to be outside the protection of the First Amendment. More recent Supreme Court Decisions question the analysis of the Breard case and suggest that a complete ban on door-to-door solicitation would be found unconstitutional today. See also McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, §24.378 (3rd Ed.).

Even though the 1951 United States Supreme Court decision has not been expressly overruled, more recent cases suggest that a total prohibition of door-to-door solicitation would be unconstitutional and unenforceable. In Project 80's Inc. v. City of Pocatello, 942 F.2d 635 (9th Cir. 1991), a city ordinance prohibiting door-to-door solicitation unless the homeowner places a "solicitors welcome" sign on the house was ruled an unconstitutional infringement of free commercial speech. The court concluded that the ordinance did not provide the least restrictive alternative available to accomplish the legitimate governmental interests of protecting residential privacy and preventing crime. The Federal Court decision invalidating the Cities of Pocatello and Idaho Falls' ordinances was the second time the Court had invalidated the ordinances. The 1991 decision was the result of a remand order by the United States Supreme Court of the earlier 1988 decision in Project 80's Inc. v. City of Pocatello, 876 F.2d 711 (9th Cir. 1991), vacated and remanded, City of Idaho Falls v. Project 80's Inc., 493 U.S. 1013, 110 S.Ct. 709, 107 L.Ed.2d 730 (1990). Similar decisions have been reached by the Ohio Court of Appeals in City of Tiffin v. Boor, 109 Ohio App. 3d 337, 672 NE2d 200 (Ohio Ap. 1996), the Oregon Supreme Court in City of Hillsboro v. Purcell, 306 Or 547, 761 P.2d 510 (Ore., 1988) and an Illinois Federal District Court in Green v. Village of Schaumburg, 676 F.Supp. 870 (ND Ill., 1988).

Washington

While there are no reported Washington court decisions on the validity of "Green River" ordinances, on November 3, 2000 U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour issued an order (Peace Action Coalition v. City of Medina, Case No. C00-1811C) enjoining the city of Medina from enforcing its municipal ordinance regulating peddlers and solicitors.

The city of Medina had a requirement that all solicitors and peddlers must register with the police department and submit to a criminal background check. The lawsuit did not challenge the portion of the ordinance that regulated the conduct of commercial activities, defined as peddling. However, the judge did enjoin the portion of the ordinance that applied the registration/background checks to political, religious and charitable organizations. (A number of cities still do require a criminal background check to commercial solicitors.)

In the words of the court, "the relevant portions of the Medina Municipal Code constitute an improper prior restraint on speech protected by the First Amendment, and are impermissibly overbroad and vague, chilling constitutionally protected speech." See MRSC webpage, Federal Court Strikes Down Medina Ordinance Regulating Door-to-Door Solicitation.

The 1951 Supreme Court Breard case upholding such ordinances was cited in the case of Singleton v. Jackson, 85 Wn.App. 835 (1997) (holding that a door-to-door solicitor at a private residence was a licensee rather than a trespasser or invitee for purposes of premises liability if the front entry may be easily reached and there are no posted signs indicating strangers are not welcome). The validity of local ordinances banning door-to-door sales, however, was not addressed. A decision to totally prohibit door-to-door solicitation may not be defensible and should be carefully reviewed with the attorney.

Other types of regulations of door-to-door solicitation such as licensing, registration and identification requirements have survived constitutional challenges and been upheld by the courts as appropriate regulations. For example, the City of Pasco's ordinance on licensing and regulation of itinerant vendors was upheld by the Federal Court in Hispanic Taco Vendors of Washington v. City of Pasco, 994 F.2d 676 (9th Cir. 1993). In drafting provisions for peddlers' and hawkers' licenses, the city should review the provisions of chapter 36.71 RCW, especially RCW 36.71.090 restricting the ability of cities and counties to prohibit sales or require licenses for sales of farm produce.

In the area of regulation of charitable solicitations, the city should refer to the provisions of chapter 19.09 RCW on charitable solicitations. It is recommended that other constitutional issues raised by the regulation of canvassing and solicitation involving religious activities should be discussed with legal counsel.

Need more information?

Feel free to Ask MRSC. Washington cities, counties, and our contract partners can call or email MRSC for more information and advice - free of charge.