Jersey City’s “No Knock Ordinance” Introduced

Here’s the question: How can a city allow for growth without sacrificing the community and character that we already have?

If you’re a homeowner, you’ve been receiving mailings and door hangers from real estate agents for years, announcing proudly how fast they can sell your house, and how much your neighbors got for theirs. “Call me,” they say, “I can get you a giant bag of money if you get out!” (They don’t say it like that – they make it prettier, but ultimately that’s the message.)

But for some, the gentrification process has been much more aggressive. Homeowners in parts of the city (Greenville seems to be the primary objective) have been targeted by door knockers – and by targeted I mean these solicitors are literally using their bodies to stop homeowners from slamming the doors in their faces – with offers to buy and intrusions into their homes. And Greenville is over it.

Michael Griffin first talked to me about this problem several years ago. He’s been collecting voices and stories about this “aggressive speculation” (the designation for this problem) and today, his diligence and persistence seems to have paid off. The city council takes on the problem after several meetings with Griffin and other community leaders by announcing the introduction of a “No Knock Registry” ordinance that the city council will vote on at their Feb. 22 meeting.

“The “No Knock Registry” is meant to protect long-time homeowners who may feel harassed and vulnerable because they may not have an understanding of the value of their property or the process of selling a home, while also sending the message that Jersey City welcomes the diversity of new residents and the potential investment in our neighborhoods,” says Council President Lavarro in a statement.

And if it passes, homeowners can then use the JCPD as their muscle to stop the door-to-door solicitations by real estate developers. (Unless the solicitors are there to peddle charitable, political, or religious wares and ideas.)

Violators of the ordinance are subject to a $1250 fine for their first offense, with fines increasing for repeat offenders, leading eventually to a possible revocation of the real estate license.

Here’s how it will work: Assuming the ordinance passes on 2/22, the city will implement a registry that homeowners can sign up for at the city clerk’s office. (Sorry, no online or phone registration available yet, although it’s on the table. Jersey City Office of Innovation – we’re looking at you here.) Registrants will then receive a decal to display that will notify developers and others guilty of these kinds of intrusions that they’re trespassing, and that they’re not welcome. Should they proceed in spite of the decal, the homeowner can call the police.

Michael Griffin, community leader and driving force of this ordinance, commends the city council on their  ability to listen and respond.

“Here’s a brief history for how this came to fruition,” he said to the crowd, “I co-authored a cease and desist petition with Chris Gadsden. While we were collecting signatures, we heard many stories about tactics and harassment that were being used. For example, they may put their foot in the door when the homeowner goes to close the door.

“This ordinance is about holding those accountable and making it illegal for those who are aggressively speculating and harassing homeowners. We found out that many were second and third generation homeowners. A lot of people who were selling were selling for undervalued prices – it felt like displacement.”

To that end, the ordinance also includes an education component, which will help longtime residents value their homes, and instruct them how they can best sell, if they choose to, for a fair price.

At-Large Councilwoman Joyce Waterman added that, “Today is a great day. Today you see the city working for the people. That’s why it’s a great day. It was brought to our attention from community leader, Michael Griffin, because sometimes we aren’t fully aware of what all the concerns are, but when we heard about the situation, we got right to it.”

Waterman finished by mentioning what, to me, is the most important part of this story. “Michael didn’t quit. Michael was very persistent. It’s a pleasure working with a community leader who really cares about the community. We need our community leaders like him to help make us aware of problems.”

And ultimately, says Waterman, “This ordinance is a sign of us working with the community. We want all the residents to be respected. This is an ordinance of good neighbors. Yes, you want to come in and buy – but you have to be a good neighbor in order to purchase.”

Stay tuned for more from Michael Griffin about community activism, persistence, and how to get stuff done.

Posted by

Mel Kozakiewicz a professor, editor, writer, and mother of two.

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