Q&A: Identifying Sex Offenders

Q. I was recently made aware that a sex offender moved into my condominium building.  He moved into his girlfriend’s unit. I made the board aware of this and even gave them a printout from the sex offender registry. We have a lot of children living in our community.  Does the board have a legal obligation to advise other owners that a sex offender lives in our building?

                                  —Worried Parent

A. “While there is no legal obligation on the part of the board, it is certainly wise to advise the community that the board has been made aware that a sex offender may have moved into the building and that if the occupants would like more information they should contact local law enforcement,” says Ellen A. Shapiro, partner in the Dedham, Massachusetts, law firm of Goodman, Shapiro & Lombardi, LLC.  

“The question does not contain information about the printout and its verification in regard to the particular individual who is in the building. Did the print out contain the building’s address?  Sex offenders are required to provide their address to the police department.  Did the print out contain a picture of the individual? Did the person who submitted the question actually see the occupant and determine that it is the sex offender? Did the board simply accept the representation, or did they investigate the accuracy of the information?

“I know that I am putting a lot of emphasis on the issue of accurate identification. However, I am mindful of a South Carolina case where an individual was incorrectly identified to the community as being a sex offender. The information had been obtained from the Sex Offender Registry, and based on that information the board informed the community. Unfortunately, due to the similarity in names, the unit owner was not the sex offender. He proceeded to sue the board and received a judgment for almost $900,000.00.  (Almost one-third of that amount was allocated to ‘punitive damages’ against the board for ‘wrongful conduct.’)    

“While the case was from another jurisdiction, it is illustrative of the serious consequences if a mistake is made.  It is for this reason that I recommend informing the community of the possible presence of a sex offender without specifically identifying the individual and advising the community of the method to obtain further information.” 

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