The issue of sex offenders living within a homeowner association has received a lot of well deserved press. This awareness was triggered by Megan's Law, which mandated that each state have a mechanism for informing the public of the whereabouts of sex offenders. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that information about potential predators may be posted on the Internet.
As a result, most states have a website that list names, addresses and details of the offense. Sex offenders are also required to register their address each time they move. According to National Alert Registry, there are 491,000 registered sex offenders within the United States.
Clearly, sexual offenders are a cause of legitimate concern. The staggering number of offenders living in our midst calls for vigilance and reasoned action. HOAs are often required to control behaviors within the HOA that "disturb" the neighbors. This generally refers to things like pet control and loud music. Criminal behavior should always be referred to law enforcement authorities prepared to deal with it.
But the sex offender issue is a conundrum. From a legal perspective, the former sex offender has served the court mandated sentence and has been set free to enjoy "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." However, there is compelling evidence that many of these individuals are not cured of their compulsions and, if given a chance, will act on them again.
Fortunately, citizens are allowed to "monitor" others that could have criminal intent. That monitoring needs to be just that ... from a distance. It does not entitle aggressive action or confrontation. As stated in one state's Sex Offender Registry: "The information provided on this website is intended for community safety purposes only and should not be used to threaten, intimidate, or harass. Misuse of this information may result in criminal prosecution."
That statement means if the HOA takes an aggressive stance against a sex offender, there could be legal repercussions against the HOA.
However, the Board does need to acknowledge and deal with the issue. When made aware it exists:
- Verify the Accuracy of the Report. Accusing someone of being a sex offender could do a lot of harm if untrue. Do not rely on hearsay. Verify the information through law enforcement officials.
- Measure the Threat. Not all sex offenders are guilty of the same degree of offense. For example, some may have had a consensual relationship with a minor who is close in age (say, 17 years old and 19 years old). And some sex offenders may have not repeated an offense for many years. These situations are much less serious than a repeat offender who preys on young children. Get the facts.
- Consult with Legal Counsel: Every state has slightly different versions of Megan's Law, including immunities involving disclosure. Be clear what disclosure authority the HOA may have before moving forward with disclosure.
Avoid Buyer or Renter Screening. The HOA needs to steer clear from screening potential residents. The Board and manager are ill equipped to do this properly and failing to identify a sex offender would implicate the HOA in crimes committed within the HOA. Leave screening to the landlords and lenders.
- Disclosure. Once the information is verified, it's appropriate to alert the residents when there is a known sex offender living within the homeowner association. Here's a suggested letter to send to all owners and residents (including renters and the sex offender in question):
"The Board of Directors has been informed that an individual living in the community is considered a sex offender by the legal authorities. The purpose of this notice is to allow you to take appropriate precautions.
We encourage you to become familiar with the possible threat such an offender may pose by visiting the state website at (fill in address). You can also call local police for more information.
The homeowner association is not legally authorized to remove this offender from our community nor required to provide additional security. Take appropriate precautions and if you witness suspicious or unlawful activity, you should immediately contact the police or dial 911."
For more information, please visit this website