An individual who has been convicted of a sexual offense under state or federal laws can be a registered sex offender. In these types of cases, a defendant may be required to submit their personal information, including their name and address, to government records.
These records are kept in a database called the sex offender registry. There are numerous crimes that may result in an individual being placed in the sex offender registry, including:
- Child molestation;
- Harassment; or
- Other types of sexual abuse.
Does a Landlord Have a Duty to Determine Whether or Not an Applicant is Registered as a Convicted Sex Offender?
In general, landlords do not have a duty to check the status of an applicant as a convicted sex offender. There are housing laws for sex offenders.
These laws restrict individuals on the sex offender registry from residing near:
- Playgrounds; or
- Daycare centers.
Although they are not required to check, landlords who rent to sex offenders do have a duty to protect residents from known risks or risks that the landlord should have been able to recognize. If the landlord determines that sex offenders constitute a known risk, they may consider denying an applicant who is a current sex offender.
However, it is important to be aware that there are sex offender housing rights. The law does not allow a landlord to use an individual’s registration in the sex offender registry as an excuse to deny them housing.
If the landlord uses the registry as a reason to deny housing, they may be sued for damages. Landlords, however, also have a responsibility to their tenants and neighbors.
If a landlord believes that renting to a sex offender is a risk, they may deny the application, as previously noted. For example, if they are renting a multi-family property to tenants who have children, it may be too risky to approve the application.
Why Do Registered Sex Offenders Have to Register Their Addresses?
The main reason for having a sex offender registry is to allow individuals in the community to be aware of the presence of registered sex offenders in their neighborhoods or workplaces. This registry is intended as a means of public protection.
In many cases, state registries give the public access to general information regarding registered sex offenders, including their:
- Criminal history;
- Current address; and
Depending on the state, the registry can also include the individual’s current place of employment. This information is made available to the public once the offender provides the information to the registry.
Can a Landlord Deny the Application of a Convicted Sex Offender or Evict a Current Resident Who is Discovered to Be a Convicted Sex Offender?
The law is not as clear regarding whether a landlord may deny the application of a convicted sex offender or evict a current resident who is determined to be a convicted sex offender. On one hand, the laws prohibit sex offender registry information from being used for the purpose of denying housing, called sex offender housing discrimination.
Landlords who do so may be sued for damages and may face fines. However, as noted above, landlords also have to protect residents from risks they should have been able to recognize or known risks.
If the landlord determines a sex offender constitutes a known right, they may consider denying applicants who are current sex offenders or evicting the residents. If an individual is determined to be a current health or safety risk to others, that individual will not be protected by fair housing discrimination laws.
What if the Landlord Asks an Applicant About His Status but the Applicant Lies?
Regardless of a landlord’s stance on renting to a convicted sex offender, if the rental application asks about a conviction and the applicant misrepresents their status, the landlord may argue that the misrepresentation constitutes a material breach of the contract. In this type of situation, the contract may be voided entirely.
That breach could then be used as the basis to deny the applicant housing or to evict a current resident.
Does a Landlord Have a Duty to Disclose to Other Residents the Location of the Convicted Sex Offender?
The law is also less clear on this issue and is best decided on a case-by-case basis when renting to sex offenders. In certain circumstances, a landlord may have a duty to investigate further in order to determine the nature of an offense, how long ago it occurred, and the punishment that was imposed.
If law enforcement is planning to notify residents of the neighborhood regarding the situation, the landlord has no duty to do so. In addition, because sex offender registry information is available to the public, a landlord may not have a duty to notify other residents of information they can obtain themselves.
Does a Landlord Have a Duty to Disclose to Applicants that a Convicted Sex Offender Lives in the Neighborhood?
Whether a landlord has a duty to disclose to applicants that a convicted sex offender lives in the neighborhood will depend on the location. For example, in California, all residential lease and rental agreements that were entered into on or after July 1, 1999 are required to contain a paragraph in 8 point font that informs the resident that they have the right to access sex offender information.
A landlord is not required to provide any other information regarding the closeness of a sex offender. The statutory duty provides that the landlord must notify the resident that they have the right to access the information themselves.
How Do You Petition for Removal from the Sex Offender Registry?
The first step an individual can take towards having themselves removed from the sex offender list is to determine whether or not the offense is one that can be removed and, if so, if they are eligible for removal. These questions may be answered by consulting with a lawyer or by reviewing the relevant laws of the state.
If the offense is an offense that may be removed and an offender is eligible, they will be required to file a petition for removal with the court. In addition to the petition, the offender must also include documentation showing that they are no longer a threat to the public, for example, a certificate that states that they have received treatment or have attended required counseling sessions.
Once the petition is filed, the court will review it and determine whether or not it should be granted. The court may also consider other factors, including:
- The offender’s criminal history;
- The severity of the sexual crime; and
- If the offense involved violence.
If a petition is denied, the offender will be required to wait a specified period of time prior to filing a new request for removal. If an individual is removed from the database, the crime will still be shown on their criminal record.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Deal With This Issue?
The laws governing renting properties to sex offenders may vary by state and may not be entirely clear. If you have any issues, questions, or concerns regarding renting to a registered sex offender, it is important to consult with a landlord-tenant lawyer.
If you are a convicted sex offender who has been discriminated against, your lawyer can advise you of your rights.