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Sex Offender Laws Affect Home Buyer Notification

Crime inflicts the worst possible stigma on any neighborhood. Just the perception of danger is sometimes enough to damage a community's credibility with home buyers. When it comes to sex offenders living nearby, what are real estate agents required to tell the homebuyer? Disclosure requirements will vary from state-to-state.

Megan's Law is named after Megan Kanka, a child victim in New Jersey whose case led to passage of state laws requiring public notification when a convicted sex offender moves into a community. But Megan's Law mainly notifies residents who already live in a community. What about newcomers who are considering buying a home? Sex offender notification varies widely by state when it comes to real estate disclosure. Some states require agents to point the homebuyer toward information resources that help to identify where sex offenders live, while other states simply exempt the real estate agent from responsibility.

Virginia, California and Alaska, for example, require agents to tell home buyers about resources such as local law enforcement agencies or sex offender databases. Connecticut and other states are considering legislation to make agents provide a standard disclosure to home buyers of relevant information sources. Some states, for example, have searchable sex offender databases on the world wide web--plug in the zip code or town to find out if any convicted offenders live in the area. At the other end of the spectrum are states where real estate agents are exempt from any responsibility, including Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Minnesota, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.

Megan's Law raises legally charged questions for home buyers, sellers and real estate agents alike. In today's lawsuit-driven society, liability concerns frequently determine how businesses operate, and that includes the real estate industry. Megan's Law really puts the real estate agent between a rock and a hard place. Disclosing that a sex offender lives nearby could dampen home sales, as well as drop property values significantly. That hurts sellers who could sue the agent for damage to their property values. On the other hand, does the homebuyer have a right-to-know? What if the family moves in only to discover that a child molester lives next door, or something worse happens? Failure to disclose could motivate the buyer to sue the agent, as well.

The question of whether or not agents are required to disclose under real estate law is a tough one without specific guidance. Are agents even required to find out if a child molester lives nearby? The courts may ultimately have to decide.

Sources used to create this article include writer Brigitte Greenberg and the Associated Press.