Township Administrator: Unchecked real estate canvassing is fertile ground for blockbusting.
TOMS RIVER-A large portion of the North Dover section of Toms River Township has been declared as off-limits to door to door real estate salespeople after complaints by residents here. On Tuesday night the township council voted unanimously to sanction the canvassing after months of aggressive door-knocking went unchecked, with numerous complaints dating back to last summer when the apparent surge began.
Residents say realtors from Lakewood based real estate companies have been engaging in overly aggressive tactics to persuade homeowners to sell their homes to Orthodox Jewish families seeking to vacate Lakewood Township.
The area affected runs from the town’s border with Jackson Township, where residents are encountering the same issues, south to Riverwood Drive.
Door to door soliciting in the township has been restricted in Toms River since 2004 when a traveling magazine salesman entered the home of an elderly woman and brutally murdered her.
“Beginning in mid- to late 2015, the Township received increasing reports and complaints of real estate agents, most of whom were based in other municipalities, going door-to-door in certain neighborhoods and using highly intrusive, intimidating, and questionable tactics to induce residents to sell their homes,” Shives said in the report.
In 2015, the township enacted a second ordinance that covered real estate canvassing that prohibited “blockbusting”, the threat of racial or religious intimidation to scare people into selling their homes.
“Nonetheless, real estate canvassing in certain sections of the Township continued unabated, either in direct defiance of these ordinances or through the newly established permit procedure, whereby a select few real estate agencies would, on a monthly basis, repeatedly mine the same neighborhoods attempting to generate sales,” Shives said. “Additionally, residents in these neighborhoods reported being approached — even accosted – in their front yards and on their streets by individuals eager to purchase their homes.”
Vocal public opposition to these incidents prompted the Township to explore other ways to combat real estate canvassing, which had reached excessive levels. In researching how other juris dictions have dealt with this issue, the Division of Law discovered a New York statute permitting the imposition of “cease and desist” zones to prohibit door-to-door solicitations of real estate in areas that experienced intense and repeated canvassing. That statute was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit against a constitutional challenge, Anderson v. Treadwell. 294 R3d 453, 456-57 (2d Or. 2002), cert, denied. 538 LLS, 986 (2003). The United States Supreme Court denied review, letting the ruling, and the “cease and desist” statute, stand.
Township officials said through a lengthy investigation they did find evidence that Lakewood’s realtors engaged in blockbusting and other suspicious behavior.
Shives said the township found credible evidence to support the residents’ claims of stalking and harassment by real estate agents to attempt to coerce homeowners to sell.
The township held a public hearing that detailed incidents in North Dover. The Tallymawr development, which is the northernmost residential neighborhood along Whitesville Road was witness to many complaints.
Residents complained of frequent real-estate “Drive-bys” and realtors walking the neighborhood taking photographs of homes not for sale.
“Realtors and buyers were approached by another neighbor … in front of my house,” one Tallymawr resident claimed. “An argument ensued where the realtor had gone through a stop sign while texting and speeding while there [were] children playing, all part of a Monday afternoon activity of going through the neighborhood taking pictures of houses.”
Residents also complained about a high volume of canvassing done on Christmas eve.
Others complained about realtors speeding through developments asking children if they know of any homes for sale in the neighborhood.
“Over the past several months, certain neighborhoods, specifically those in the northwest quadrant of the Township, have been persistently and aggressively besieged by real estate canvassers,” Shives said in the report.
Shives argued that a cease and desist action was necessary because unchecked real estate canvassing is fertile ground for blockbusting.
The township found through their investigations real estate agents did engage in drive-by photographing of homes, accosting teenagers, sent mailers of questionable validity, sped through residential neighborhoods and engaged in aggressive behavior.
Aggressive real estate tactics are not unique to Toms River. Nearby, Jackson Township officials are grappling with the same problems, but have yet to introduce any solid legislation or take any firm action against realtors. In Howell and Brick, township officials have reexamined and introduced ordinances to protect residents from the aggressive tactics.