Registered Sex Offender Disclosure Necessary in Home Sales

Written by Posted On Sunday, 19 June 2005 17:00

It's a sure sign of the times -- a planned subdivision in Lubbock, Texas, is promising a safe environment with criminal background checks of homeowners and no convicted sex offenders.

With news of related sex crimes making headlines, many communities are looking for ways to keep their neighborhoods safer.

The Milwaukee Ridge development, which will consist of 665 houses in Lubbock, will be among the first to take such a proactive stance. Penalties may be enforced if owners sell or allow a convicted sex offender to live in their homes. Owners will be required to do background checks.

While Lubbock, Texas, isn't the highest on the list for sex offenders, in California finding an area without a registered sex offender living nearby is difficult to do.

"You'd be hard pressed to find a house in San Diego County that's not within three-quarters of a mile of a registered sex offender," says attorney Michael Spilger, who specializes in real estate transactional law in San Diego.

"If you plug in almost any zip code in San Diego County you're going to have 40, 50 or 100 registered sex offenders," says Spilger.

Most states, although specific legal obligations vary, require sellers, listing agents and buyer's agents to provide any known information about registered sex offenders living in the area.

"Under civil code 1102 and/or 2079 [in California] a seller has a duty to disclose any facts that might materially affect the value or desirability of the property and to disclose those facts to any prospective purchaser. So clearly, if you have a registered sex offender living across the street and you have actual knowledge of that then that should be disclosed," says Spilger.

Many purchase contracts now include disclosure information about how to look up information on registered sex offenders. Requirements may vary from state-to-state, but many times a real estate agent or seller must simply inform the prospective buyer about where to look up information in the registered sex offender database for that area.

"But there's no duty on anybody's part to investigate and find out if there is a registered sex offender living nearby," says Spilger.

"The law says that by informing the prospective purchaser how to access the database, that that is sufficient compliance with the disclosure law regarding information about Megan's Law ," says Spilger.

If a seller or agent had actual knowledge about a registered sex offender living nearby and both fail to disclose it, Spilger said there are two options for recourse: the purchaser can seek an action to have the contract rescinded or if the purchaser decides to stay in the home the purchaser can sue for loss of value.

"Namely, the value of [the purchaser's] home is worth less on account of the fact that there are registered sex offenders living nearby. The measure of damages actually would be how much less is [the purchaser's] home worth now that we know the true facts," says Spilger.

However, quantifying how much less a home would be worth is very difficult.

San Diego Criminal attorney, Stephen Cline says that while the databases may be helpful, he cautioned people to understand the relevancy.

"All you see there is an offense and you see a face and potentially an address, but you don't know anything else about that person, one way or the other. I mean I think looking at the website is going to be helpful but it does also tend to feed into this hysteria that any registrant within a mile or two miles of my house suddenly creates some decrease in value, which I don't agree with that," says Cline.

Nowadays, many people are doing their own research. A website sponsored by SBC called Scan USA recently launched a free Sexual Predator Movement Alert Service for those who register.

"That allows any member of the public to go in and put in up to five zip codes and they will be alerted when a sex offender moves in that zip code or changes address within the zip code" says Linda Spagnoli, director of communications for Scan USA.

Their software is designed to scan sex offender registries throughout the nation and look for changes in the databases. Information is then sent to members in requested zip codes in the method indicated upon registration (email, pda, fax, phone). The site can be found online at scanusa.com .

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Phoebe Chongchua

Phoebe Chongchua is an award-winning journalist, an author, customer service trainer/speaker, and founder of Setting the Service Standard, a customer service training and consulting program offered by Live Fit Enterprises (LFE) based in San Diego, California. She is the publisher of Live Fit Magazine, an online publication that features information on real estate/finance, physical fitness, travel, and philanthropy. Her company, LFE, specializes in media services including marketing, PR, writing, commercials, corporate videos, customer service training, and keynotes & seminars. Visit her magazine website: www.LiveFitMagazine.com.

Phoebe's articles, feature stories, and columns appear in various publications including The Coast News, Del Mar Village Voice, Rancho Santa Fe Review, and Today's Local News in San Diego, as well as numerous Internet sites. She holds a California real estate license. Phoebe worked for KGTV/10News in San Diego as a Newscaster, Reporter and Community Affairs Specialist for more than a decade. Phoebe's writing is also featured in Donald Trump's book: The Best Real Estate Advice I Ever Received and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buying Foreclosures. She is the author of If the Trash Stinks, TAKE IT OUT! 14 Worriless Principles for Your Success.

Contact Phoebe at (858) 259-3646 or phoebe@livefitmagazine.com. Visit PhoebeChongchua.com for more information.

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