Perhaps your tenant seems good natured, keeps to himself or herself, is very quiet, and there are no complaints from neighbors. But does that mean nothing is amiss? The unfortunate reality is that there are those willing to commit heinous acts of violence, including sexual assault on children, who are adept at hiding their innermost tendencies. In your detailed rental application you can ask questions regarding the applicant’s criminal history. In all likelihood an applicant will not reveal such information, so it falls to you to make sure he or she is not on any watch lists. By using our Sex Offenders Search and other tools on TenantAlert.com this information is readily available. If you have been lied to on the application, then you can dismiss the applicant outright. Likewise if you subsequently learn that your new tenant concealed from you his or her sexual crimes, then you can begin eviction proceedings. However, if you asked such a question on the rental application, and did not follow-up with a sex offenders search, then you open yourself to legal issues if a crime is committed by the tenant.
At times you will indeed have a rental applicant who will fully disclose that he or she is on a state (or federal) sexual offender registry (indeed, in some states the applicant might be required to make such an admission). Good questions to ask yourself are “Am I under any legal obligation to rent an apartment to a sex offender who has good credit and no other issues outstanding? Am I obligated to inform other tenants that I have rented a unit to a sex offender? If I don’t inform them, and something goes wrong, am I liable? How will other tenants feel about me if I rent a unit to a sexual offender?” These are all valid concerns. First, you can’t use the fact that the applicant is on a sex offender registry to deny him or her housing, otherwise you risk being sued and possibly fined. However, if you have many tenants with children, you have a responsibility to see to it that a potentially harmful tenant does not reside in your building. If you’re fairly certain that the applicant is a known risk he or she cannot be protected under fair housing discrimination laws. In some states there are laws that prohibit sex offenders from living near schools (often within 1000 feet), so it may be possible for you to simply deny the application. The second and third questions are tricky ones as well. In some instances you are responsible for notifying other tenants, depending on the nature of the sexual offense, when it was committed, and the sentence. In some states the police are obligated to inform tenants. It’s also the case that sex offender registries are available to the public, so there may not be an obligation to inform other tenants when they themselves can obtain this information. Finally, depending on the nature of your tenants there may be little or great concern that you have so rented a unit to a sex offender. If you need further clarification or assistance, we recommend you examine your state’s web page concerning sex offender registries and that you consult with your attorney.
If you are seriously considering such a candidate it’s best to find out all the facts about the case. A wide range of offenses fall under the category of “sex offender” and they are reported and classified differently from state to state. For example, was it a case of a 19-year-old having “consensual” sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old? Or an adult male aged 50 who has repeatedly exposed himself to minors below the age of 16? The important thing is that you make certain you use a professional screening service to obtain a Sex Offender Report, for only then can you fully inform yourself regarding the nature of the applicant. Once you have all the facts you can proceed in making your determination as to the applicant’s suitability as a tenant.