Cities focus on unsolicited materials delivered to homes

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published February 11, 2020

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BERKLEY/HUNTINGTON WOODS — The city of Berkley is working on an ordinance to regulate the placement of unsolicited written materials on private property, while Huntington Woods has passed its own ordinance on the subject.

At the Berkley City Council’s Feb. 3 meeting, the council approved 6-0 the first reading of an ordinance aimed to reduce the amount of unsolicited written materials scattered on a homeowner’s property.

According to the city, it has been receiving complaints about this issue for a while, specifically in areas where residents have gotten bags filled with mostly ads and some journalistic writings thrown from vehicles onto their lots without any care for their placement. For property owners, this has caused some headaches because they have to be the ones who clean up whatever mess is left.

Unsolicited written materials, as defined by the ordinance, are “any written materials delivered to any premises without the express request, invitation or permission, in writing or otherwise, including, but not limited to, papers, advertisements, magazines, pamphlets, flyers, handbills, leaflets, and circulars of the owner, occupant, or lessee of such premises.”

“This has been a difficult issue,” said City Attorney John Staran. “We don’t get a lot of complaints, but we get some, and the complaints we do receive, it’s a very upsetting problem for people, and it’s not unique to Berkley. I mean, it’s everywhere that receives these publications. They come unsolicited, and they often just get thrown in the yard or on the driveway.”

As the written materials can’t be outright banned or prohibited, as that could be interpreted as a suppression of free speech, the city instead drafted the ordinance to control where they are delivered. Anyone who violates the ordinance would be subjected to a municipal civil infraction that levies a civil fine of $100 for each violation.

“They can’t any longer just be thrown out onto the driveway or the yard,” Staran said. “They basically have to be placed and secured on the porch area or within a holder or a newspaper holder designed for this type of thing, and just not left to become blight or to be blown in the wind or to be washed into the drain.”

A concern voiced by council was how to properly enforce the ordinance when it goes into effect.

Councilman Dennis Hennen said that materials still not being delivered properly should be reported by residents, and then the citations built into the law can be applied to the violating party.

“I think it would be very easy,” he said. “Once there’s a violation, there’s probably going to be many violations. Those will rack up very quickly, and I think the lesson will be learned quite rapidly. My hope with all code enforcement issues is that they don’t happen, but if they do, it is swift and firm and so that the violators know we aren’t kidding around and it gets done.”

In Huntington Woods, the City Commission held and approved the second reading of its ordinance regarding unsolicited written materials at its Feb. 4 meeting.

The city has cited similar reasons as Berkley for proceeding with its ordinance. Commissioner Michelle Elder stated that she didn’t realize how much these materials were an eyesore until this issue was brought up last month.

“Ever since I was made aware of this problem, that is all I see across our city,” she said. “I think this is a really good ordinance and will help keep our streets and sidewalks and driveways much neater and nicer, and is good for our residents.”

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