Political Canvassing where "Beware of Dog" is posted in Illinois
September 17, 2023 10:07 AM   Subscribe

In Illinois, dog owners are liable if there dog bites someone who is behaving peacefully, not harassing the dog and a legally allowed to be where they are. Homeowners who post a "Beware of Dog" sign render people who enter their property without obtaining prior permission trespassers. There are exceptions for people who routinely enter the property without prior permission such as meter readers or mail carriers. Are political canvassers an exception to the trespassing rule?
posted by grahahw to Law & Government (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We had to put up a no solicitation sign to keep our the people selling new windows, the religious folk, the Romani wanting to blacktop the driveway, and the political canvassers..Most got the message....the political folk took a bit longer. We have a household member with ALS and require a degree of quietude
posted by Czjewel at 10:57 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]


From here:

"A salesman entering property by a path or walk used by visitors may recover for injuries received from a dog which could not be seen. [FN27] If a dog is visible or if there is a "beware of the dog" or similar warning sign, then an entrant who does not first call or contact the owner or a resident on the premises before entering would be in the position of a trespasser and unable to recover if attacked by the dog. [FN28] There may be an exception in cases such as a friend or neighbor who is accustomed to entering without calling to someone or when tradesmen and people coming to the property to do a specific job are accustomed to entering without notice (a meter reader or the postman, for example)."

A political canvasser is nothing more than a door-to-door salesperson.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 10:57 AM on September 17 [8 favorites]

As someone who has canvassed many, many, many times and trained and managed other canvassers, I would respect a beware of dog sign. I have also paid attention to signs that indicate that someone works a night shift and sleeps during the day, someone with an illness who doesn't need to be disturbed and that one home that had multiple signs proclaiming that "this house is protected by Smith and Wesson." TBH, I often ignore "no solicitation" signs, since I'm not actually asking people for money when I canvass.

I always tell other canvassers to never go up to a house that looks dangerous or that just feels off to them in any way.
posted by brookeb at 11:12 AM on September 17 [7 favorites]

The fact that a political canvasser might consider themselves to be "doing a job" in the same way as a mail carrier or a meter reader and should therefore have the same access rights is one of the (many) reasons I don't want political canvassers on my property, and why I would put up a "beware of the dog sign" if that had any legal standing where I live, primarily to keep political canvassers off my property.

(Nowhere do you suggest in the question that you specifically are a political canvasser, so that answer is not directed at you personally in any way)

However, all that aside, is this a theoretical question so you/someone else can be prepared when you/they go canvassing, or is it in response to a specific situation? Law can be quite contextual so if something has happened already you might get more precise answers if you (are able to) share any further details.
posted by underclocked at 11:48 AM on September 17 [2 favorites]

Political canvassing might be paid canvassers who will also ask for money, political parties trying to identify likely voters, political candidates introducing themselves to voters, etc. I think a lot of it qualifies as free speech. Anybody coming to your property should respect the Beware of Dog or No Trespassing sign.

A candidate I supported was bitten by a dog going door-to-door, the dog leaped out of the house when the door was opened. He got stitches, still kept knocking on doors. It's the best way for local candidates to meet constituents.

For your specific question, contact the major party offices, they will likely know. If you represent a large political party, assign a lawyer. Prioritize keeping volunteers safe.
posted by theora55 at 12:05 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]

If you're thinking that canvassers may just...not show up at the door, know that when I briefly canvassed for a locally well-respected and to be honest pretty good non-profit, I was told that political canvassing "did not count" for all those signs about no solicitors, etc. I was also told go to to the back door if no one answered the front, and to try the doors of apartment buildings. I didn't really know better - a lot of the people doing this stuff are pretty young - but I mostly didn't do any of that because I felt that it was against the spirit of the thing if not the letter. But bear in mind that canvassers may be getting all kinds of bananas instructions about signs, dogs and property.
posted by Frowner at 12:31 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]

A political canvasser is nothing more than a door-to-door salesperson.
Legally speaking, this is not true. The Supreme Court has ruled that political canvassers have greater claims to free speech than door-to-door salespeople, and there is a higher standard of scrutiny for laws regulating political canvassing than for laws regulating commercial door-knocking.

Having said that, I have no idea what the legal answer to your question is. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if it's unclear from the statute and hasn't ever been litigated.

Personally, I would probably take a "beware of the dog" sign as an indication to be careful about closing the gate so the dog didn't get out, and I would go ahead and knock the door anyway. I ignore "no soliciting" signs (and regularly have good conversations with people who have "no soliciting" signs), but I definitely respect a sign that says that the people have a sleeping baby, work nights, etc.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:32 PM on September 17 [8 favorites]

Agree with arbitraryandcapricious.

I would also point out that tort liability for dogbite is not likely to make you whole or make up completely for the fact that you were bitten. It’s probably better to be bitten in a scenario where you can theoretically collect, if you have to be bitten at all, but there is usually a significant delay in getting paid, if you have medical insurance they will be in line for payment for their expenses, if you need an attorney, which you probably will they will take a third off the top of any payout plus expenses…

Personally, it wouldn’t be something I would risk based on whether or not I thought there was legal liability for the homeowner.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:06 PM on September 17

an indication to be careful about closing the gate

Oh good lord, no. Some people put up BOD signs because they don't want to be bothered by randos showing up at their house uninvited, but some people put them up because their dog has already bitten someone or is at high risk of biting someone, and they really would prefer not to be sued because their dog bit someone. It is unbelievably rude to put your own interests over someone who is, at face value, trying to protect you.

To me, BOD means the dog is very likely in the yard and therefore you should not enter the yard. Leave a leaflet somewhere outside the perimeter of wherever the dog might be.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 1:18 PM on September 17 [17 favorites]

Like many, I am gobsmacked that you have a question about the legal issue with completely disregarding a sign on someone's property that says, in so many words, keep out.

Dog on premises, no solicitors, day sleepers, work from home and cannot be disturbed, etc. etc. Just keep moving.

(Also worth mentioning that you cannot put anything in or on a mailbox, or through a mailslot.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:20 PM on September 17 [4 favorites]

To me no soliciting means I don't want ANYONE coming to my door unless I've specifically invited them, they've been hired to do a job or they're kids trick-or-treating on Halloween.

The word does NOT just apply to money.
posted by brujita at 3:45 PM on September 17 [10 favorites]

Aside from splitting hairs on the legality and the potential for dog bite, I can't imagine how entering a property that is clearly posted to discourage visitors would be helpful to your candidate or party. Quite the reverse, actually.
posted by citygirl at 5:06 PM on September 17 [4 favorites]

I am an elected official in New York State. I do campaign door-to-door, and I'm doing so currently for the November 2023 election. I am a dog owner and I understand that a dog may see me as a threat. I respect "Beware of Dog" signs and never enter property marked as such.

I also respect "No Soliciting" signs. I see them as a notice that the homeowner does not want to be disturbed, and I respect that request.

I do agree not to leave literature in a mailbox or slot. I was specifically instructed NOT to do this by our local party attorney.

If someone does not want to be disturbed, I see no reason to disrespect that request.
posted by Colonel Sun at 6:24 PM on September 17 [13 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, please answer the question or flag and move on if you notice something happening that’s against the guidelines. Thank you!
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 6:50 PM on September 17

I was more thinking of the danger canvassing in... uh... highly irresponsible gun ownership areas.
posted by kschang at 7:29 PM on September 17

A 'Beware of Dog' sign only means that, it does not "render people who enter their property without obtaining prior permission trespassers." I live in Illinois, I'm not a lawyer but I've never heard anything like that. It does provide some legal protection for people who might have their dog out in the yard and it bites someone. Kansas has a similar deal. That's it.

I have canvassed door to door. I was even bitten by a dog. I apologized for upsetting the dog, and I made it clear that I wasn't going to escalate the situation by reporting the dog. There was no sign and I certainly didn't provoke the little fur ball. The household was on my contact list - for a get out the vote effort. A dog sign would have been a nice warning but I would not have interpreted it as 'do not knock'. Door to door canvasing remains the most effective method for get out the vote.

In the US political canvassing is not solicitation. If you do not want people knocking at your doors for political parties or causes you need to put up “No canvassers” if that specifically bothers you or a generic “No Trespassing” sign if you are going for the general effect. Honestly though - if one of my neighbors put up a 'no trespassing' sign I just wouldn't think of them as neighbors anymore.

All of the modern political campaigns I have worked on will make every effort to keep track and honor any one's request to not be contacted.
posted by zenon at 8:49 PM on September 17

In some jurisdictions “Beware of Dog” signs are required to be placed at homes of dogs that have been deemed dangerous or potentially dangerous by the state; in terms of tort liabilities I would also be thinking about whoever was instructing canvassers to ignore “beware of dog” signs as having some potential liability, especially in a state where liability could be shared.

There’s also “assumption of the risk”: if you see a beware of dog sign and continue past a fence anyway and get bitten by a dog, it would probably be argued that you met it.

But most importantly, all this stuff would probably be litigated, there’s not really a “free pass”.
posted by corb at 3:43 AM on September 18

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