Yoav Liberman says the solicitations can be relentless.
Real estate agents come up to him at his home of two years in Chestnut Ridge. Their question is always the same: Is he interested in selling his house?
Liberman, 49, who was raised in Israel, says that, even after he makes it clear he’s not interested, they linger, telling him they have cash buyers ready to snap up the property.
“I felt like this was an infringement of our privacy, so I asked them, in Hebrew, ‘What are you trying to achieve by knocking on people’s doors?’ And you don’t get an answer,” Liberman said. “I told them, ‘This is not something my neighbors are happy with, or this neighborhood is accustomed to. We do not want this aggressive campaign of changing the demographic of the neighborhood.’”
The phenomenon is not new in Ramapo, where ultra-Orthodox Jewish families have been expanding their presence year after year, making it the third-fastest growing town in the state, thanks, in part, to that community’s large families.
But residents and local officials have complained on social media and at public meetings that the solicitations — both in person and by mail — have intensified in recent months, particularly in certain sections of town.
“They are just very aggressive. That’s what it comes down to,” said Philip Gigante, the mayor of Airmont, next door to Chestnut Ridge. “People are very concerned. They feel being pressured or violated somehow.”
The Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors and the New York State Association of Realtors refer their members to local regulations in determining what constitutes allowable solicitations, said Mary Prenon, spokeswoman for the Gateway Association.
All towns and many villages in Rockland County have local laws that require door-to-door solicitors to obtain a permit from the respective municipality. Gigante recently posted a message on Facebook reminding people of the rules.
“If an unlicensed solicitor knocks on your door, they are breaking the law. If a licensed solicitor knocks on your door, they must produce their license upon request,” Gigante wrote. “Failure to produce their license is a violation of the code and is illegal. The penalties for breaking this law can be up to $1,000 per violation.”
Posting “no solicitation” stickers or lawn signs — available at Village Hall for residents — is another step homeowners can take, Gigante added.
“If you want to stop something, you have to stand up for yourself,” he said.
Gigante said a number of complaints about unwanted solicitations have come in since he posted his message March 4. He said the village clerk will hold hearings to examine each complaint.
Some of the people complaining in Rockland have pointed to Toms River, New Jersey, where the town council recently approved a five-year ban on real estate agents going door to door soliciting homes for sale in two northern sections of the township.
Toms River is adjacent to the township of Lakewood, home to one of the nation’s largest populations of Hasidic Jews.
Micheal Miller of Hillcrest said unincorporated areas of Ramapo town — including the neighborhoods near the Hasidic-dominated village of New Square — have also been experiencing real estate canvassing.
“It’s neighborhood busting. It’s what it is,” Miller said.
Miller and his neighbors have formed a grassroots group, Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods, to counter the area’s over-development.
He said they are concerned that properties sold to members of the ultra-Orthodox community will ultimately be renovated into larger homes or developed into multifamily homes.
“We’ve been in Rockland since 1972. We moved here for a suburban lifestyle, not for an urban lifestyle. What’s happening in the unincorporated town is that New York City is coming to Rockland,” Miller said. “We feel obligated to resist it.”
Drawing a line
But what constitutes crossing the line? Naomi Streicher, a real-estate broker and owner of Realty Teams, whose firm was top ranked in Ramapo in 2015, said her team of 30 agents is simply doing its job.
Streicher said she and her agents visit homes only when they know homeowners are interested in their service.
“We don’t just canvass a whole neighborhood. We don’t have the time,” she said. “If there’s a specific house or street where someone tells us a house is going up for sale, we will get to the door when we don’t have the phone number.”
Realty Teams uses the Every Door Direct Mail system — operated by U.S. Postal Service — to advertise its listings. The mailing service also allows agents to reach out to homeowners in specific postal routes, Streicher said.
“We’re doing what’s right for the sellers and what’s right for the buyers,” Streicher said. “If we have a buyer who’s looking for a house, we have to do what we can to find them a house.”
She said many of her buyers are couples from Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan who are starting families, aiming to find more space in Rockland.
Streicher said she and her agents have been unfairly blamed for “blockbusting.” The term was initially used to refer to real estate agents’ tactics in the 1950s that induced property owners to sell hastily at low prices out of fear that racial minorities would soon be moving into their neighborhoods.
“We sell to whoever has the money,” Streicher said. “If buyers come to us, and they say they want to live in a certain neighborhood, then we show them houses in that neighborhood. And we sell to everyone.”
By Akiko Matsuda – lohud.com