Jan 27

Face-to-Face Sales in Santa Monica: An Up-Close Look

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Santa Monica restricts the time, place, and manner of door-to-door sales.

Santa Monica restricts the time, place, and manner of door-to-door sales.

In many cities, door-to-door salesmen are about as popular as the flu. But face-to-face sales tactics are poised to make a comeback as telemarketing and spamming, already ineffective, become increasingly difficult to do legally. If you’re looking to do face-to-face sales in Santa Monica, here’s what you need to know. The City restricts two forms of face-to-face sales: (1) solicitation of business; and (2) peddling. But a salesman better pay the City’s draconian business license fees if he wants to sells sell vacuum cleaners or even set up a lemonade stand. Even if he has such a license, he’d better not take door-to-door sales too literally – like going bathroom door to bathroom door.

I. Time, Place and Manner of Face-to-Face Sales in Santa Monica

A. Solicitation

The City’s “business solicitation” ordinance defines “soliciting business” as: (1) traveling by foot or conveyance from place to place, house to house, or street to street and taking or attempting to take orders for future services or for the sale of goods for future delivery; or (2) hiring, leasing, using, or occupying a building, apartment, vehicle, or any “other place” within Santa Monica (either for oneself or another person) solely to exhibit samples and take orders for future delivery.1 The nature of the “places” in the ordinance suggests that “any other place” must be an enclosure.2 The ordinance thus applies to both traveling and non-traveling salesman.

No solicitor may ring the bell or knock on the door of any residence with a “No Peddlers” or “No Solicitors” sign.3 But some residences that have no doors are off-limits. For example, the City bans soliciting on cemetery grounds.4 Furthermore, no one can have a “lunch, meal, or eating cart, vehicle, wagon, or stand” or “cart, wagon, or stand” that sells “popcorn, peanuts, candy, or any other…food or drink” in or on any public street or other public place within 200 feet of a public school.5 Thus, a kid can’t set up a lemonade stand on a sidewalk within 200 feet of a public school, but an adult can pull right up to the school and sell stereos out of the back of his van.

B. Peddling

The City defines “peddling” more narrowly than it defines “soliciting business”: (1) traveling “door to door” and (2) selling or offering to sell goods (including food or beverages) anywhere within Santa Monica.6 But the “peddling” ordinance differs from the “business solicitation” ordinance in that the former doesn’t cover those who lease, use, or occupy a building, vehicle, or other enclosed place to exhibit samples and take orders for future delivery. The “peddling ordinance” also doesn’t cover those who sell or offer to sell services. Thus, the ordinance only applies to salesman engaged in door-to-door sales of goods.

Like solicitors, peddlers can’t ring the bell or knock on the door of any residence that has a visible sign bearing the words “No Peddlers” or “No Solicitors.”7 Furthermore, the “peddling” ordinance prohibits peddling on the beach.8 The only problem is that one doesn’t “peddle” unless he goes “door to door.” The only places on the beach that have doors are lifeguard towers and bathroom stalls. Evidently, the City Council confused peddling with solicitation, but a court won’t read words into a statute that aren’t there.9 Consequently, those who sell ice cream and soda to sunbathers are probably not violating the ordinance.

II. Licensing Requirements for Face-to-Face Sales in Santa Monica

Generally, the City requires any kind of businessman to have a business license.10 The fee for the license is $75 on the first $60,000 in gross receipts and $1.25 for each $1,000 (or fraction of $1,000) of gross receipts over $60,000.11 If he fails to get a business license within 30 days after “opening for business” or fails to renew a license before September 1, he’ll owe a penalty of 20% of the license fee and a penalty 10% of the original license fee for each month or portion of the month that he fails to pay.12 Fortunately, he doesn’t have to pay the fee if: (1) he grosses less than $60,000 and has a disability; or (2) he’s an honorably discharged war veteran with a disability.

A. Exemption for Indigent Solicitors and Peddlers With Disabilities

In Santa Monica, any kind of businessman is exempt from the payment of the license fee if he grosses less than $60,000 and has a disability.13 The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) defines a “disability” as any mental or physical condition that limits a major life activity. That doesn’t mean a person has a “disability” only if he must use a wheelchair. FEHA’s broad definition of a “disability” includes everything from clinical depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder to dyslexia and hepatitis.14 But a businessman can be a multiple amputee and still have to pay a business license fee if he grosses more than $60,000.

Two kinds of conditions that limit major life activities aren’t “disabilities.” First, a moral disorder can never be a disability, even if it makes a person unable to function. Moral disorders include compulsive gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, psychoactive use disorders resulting from “current” unlawful drug use, and sexual behavior disorders (e.g., pedophilia, exhibitionism, and voyeurism. Second, mild conditions that have little or no residual effect – the common cold and the flu, muscle aches and soreness, bruises and abrasions, non-migraine headaches, and minor and non-chronic gastrointestinal disorders – can’t be disabilities.15

B. Exemption for Certain Peddling War Veterans With Disabilities

Even if a businessman grosses more than $60,000 a year, he might be exempt from the business license fee. The City will waive the license fee if: (1) he’s a peddler; (2) he’s a former soldier, sailor, or marine; (3) he “served in” the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, the Chinese Relief Expedition, World War I or II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or the Persian Gulf War; (4) he received an honorable discharge and shows the Chief of Police his discharge papers; and (5) he has a disability and shows the Chief of Police a signed “certificate” from a physician “setting forth” the disability.16 The ordinance doesn’t state that the disability must be service-connected.

The ordinance leaves out two classes of honorably discharged veterans with disabilities. First, the City won’t waive fees for Iraq or Afghanistan vets. Thus, an Iraq veteran who grosses $60,000 and has a service-connected traumatic brain injury is ineligible for a fee waiver, but a lifelong civilian who grosses $59,999 and has hepatitis from drug abuse (past or current) is eligible for a fee waiver. Second, the omission of the term “airman” suggests that the City won’t waive fees for any Air Force veterans. Presumably, those who served in the Army Air Corps in World War II would be eligible for a fee waiver because such airmen were “soldiers.”

  1. SMMC §6.32.020. 

  2. Harris v. Capital Growth Investors XIV, 52 Cal.3d 1142 (1991). 

  3. SMMC §§6.32.010, 6.32..030. 

  4. SMMC §7.20.160. 

  5. SMMC §6.32.090. 

  6. SMMC §6.32.030. 

  7. SMMC §§6.32.010, 6.32..030. 

  8. SMMC §6.32.100. 

  9. Sawyer v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 69 Cal.2d 801, 812 (1968). 

  10. SMMC §6.32.040. 

  11. SMMC §6.12.010(a). 

  12. SMMC §6.32.160. 

  13. SMMC §6.04.180. 

  14. 2 C.C.R. §11065(d). 

  15. 2 C.C.R. §11065(d)(9)(A), (q). 

  16. SMMC §6.32.110(a). 

Ben Rothman, Esq.

Ben Rothman is a Los Angeles-based attorney practicing in the areas of personal injury, employment, and workers' compensation on a "no recovery, no fee" basis. Call him at (424) 465-2948 for a free, no-obligation consultation.