Q&A: What to Do About a Sex Offender in the Building

Q. I was recently made aware that a registered sex offender has moved into my building, into his girlfriend’s apartment. I made the board aware of this, and even gave them a printout from criminal justice. We have a lot of children living in our community. Does the board have a legal obligation to advise the shareholders that a sex offender lives in our building?

—Concerned Tenant

A. According to Alessandra Stivelman, an attorney with the Hollywood-based firm Eisinger, Brown, Lewis, Frankel & Chaiet, P.A., “While the association does have an obligation to protect its members from reasonably foreseeable harm, that duty must be balanced with a person’s individual rights. Accordingly, there is not a great deal the association can or should do when it determines that a sexual offender lives in the community. Pursuant to Section 775.21, Florida Statutes, it is the responsibility of the local law enforcement agency to notify the community of the presence of a ‘sexual predator’ or a ‘sexual offender’ and to make such records available to the public. As such, the association does not have an affirmative duty to notify the residents.

“We are often asked by board of directors whether they should nonetheless send a notice to residents and/or post information on the association’s television channel to advise residents that a sexual offender resides in the community. We highly recommend against such actions. While the association may be legally authorized to publicize the fact that a certain resident is a sexual offender, said individual may have claims against the association for defamation or discrimination, assuming the association does not have all of the most accurate information or makes a mistake during the disclosure. Since the association does not post notice of every resident’s arrest/criminal record, the resident may allege that the association is discriminating against him or harassing him. Several states have laws prohibiting harassment of sexual offenders. Also, in the event that association provides incorrect or unverified information to its residents, the association could face numerous lawsuits for various causes of action. Finally, the association’s actions could backfire by drawing negative attention to the community and driving down the value of homes or rentals.

“In Florida, when a sexual offender is convicted, he is required to register with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s sex offender registration database. Anyone can search for sex offenders by name, location, neighborhood, e-mail address, etc. Accordingly, the only action we would recommend is simply advising the residents of the existence of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Sexual Offender Database, which is publicly available information. This information can be provided to residents along with a list of safety resources, including contact information for local police, fire, and hospitals. Residents then have the option and information to review the website and determine if a sexual offender is living in the area. This approach will eliminate the risk to the association. The association may also notify its security guards of the presence of the sexual offender, as security’s knowledge of his presence in the community can raise awareness and possibly assist in fighting criminal activity. However, the security guards must be instructed not to harass or confront the resident, nor disclose to other residents as to his location.” 

“Finally, it is important to note that several states and municipalities have laws prohibiting a registered sexual predator or sexual offender to reside within close proximity to children or places where children may gather. We encourage you to contact your local law enforcement authority or municipality to further inquire as to applicable laws.”       n

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