If you’re looking at a home to buy, you’d likely want to know whether a convicted sex offender was living in the neighborhood. However, many potential buyers don’t think to ask either their real estate agent or the seller’s agent about that.
Are real estate agents required to provide the information – and are they even allowed to? The regulations vary by state.
What does New York law say?
Here in New York, an agent is not prohibited from sharing this information if they know it – as long as they reference the sex offender registry as the source of their information.
If they’re asked, and they don’t know whether there are any offenders nearby, they should refer the potential buyer to the New York Sex Offender Registry. Level 2 and Level 3 offenders are listed on the registry, along with photos, home and business addresses, information about their crimes and potential aliases. Level 2 and 3 offenders are deemed to be at medium or high risk of reoffending. (Level 1 offenders are considered low risk.)
Unfortunately, some New York real estate agents believe that they’re prohibited from providing this information – often citing the Fair Housing Act. However, this federal law doesn’t prohibit such disclosure. Some states, including New Jersey, do prohibit the disclosure.
Diligent agents should have the information
Of course, there’s nothing to prevent prospective buyers from looking up the information themselves. It’s available in a public database. Local law enforcement agencies can typically help as well. A diligent agent will often search for the information themselves – particularly if they clients who have children, who will be living alone or who may otherwise be vulnerable. If they have the information, they should share it with their client.
What if an agent knows there is a sex offender living in the area and lies about it to a prospective buyer (or their own client)? That could be problematic, and could potentially warrant civil legal action.
Just like discovering any number of things that should have been disclosed before the sale was finalized, from a basement that’s prone to flooding to an upstairs neighbor who plays the drums all night, a known high-risk sex offender in the neighborhood that no one told you about can be highly disturbing. This is just one reason why it’s always wise to have some legal guidance as you buy a home.