real estate

When you're renting with an intent to buy and a pedophile moves next door

Steve McLindenDear Real Estate Adviser,
I signed an intent-to-buy contract for a home. It was for a one-year lease, after which I am expected to purchase the home. That lease is up next month and unfortunately, a 3-time convicted pedophile/sexual predator moved in next door a week ago. I have 3 young children and this guy now lives within 10 feet of our home! Does this change the circumstance of me having to buy the home? Help!
-- E.J.

Row of houses © GSPhotography/Shutterstock.com

© GSPhotography/Shutterstock.com

Dear E.J.,
My heart always sinks when I see these types of letters because I know there will seldom be a happy solution. But judging by your responses to my follow-up queries, I'm ecstatic to report that it appears you're free to flee.

You have apparently signed the equivalent of a letter of intent to purchase real estate, a document that outlines your proposed transaction with the owner. These typically are nonbinding, although they may occasionally require a small "hard money" deposit. They usually just set the stage for the home purchase, plus they also provide a lender evidence of a proposed property purchase.

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Other types of contracts

If you had signed an offer to purchase which often requires a small earnest deposit, you'd likely lose that sum if you broke the contract. Worse, had this been a lease-to-own or lease-purchase contract, then a pedophile moving next door may not have been a sufficient legal reason to invalidate it unless there was contract language to that effect. The seller, you see, has no control of who moves in next door. To exit the contract, you would have lost any down-payment monies or premiums you paid atop each month's rent that were applied to the purchase.

But I am happy to note there were 3 crucial "outs" spelled out for you in your letter of intent: military leave, a spouse dying and, yes, a sexual predator residing on the block. If the repeat offender waited another month or two to move in, you may have been stuck. As unlucky as you're feeling right now, fate has favored you here. If you did pay any option or earnest money, you are likely owed it back.

A note to readers

Take stock in this buyer's experience and contractually demand those same 3 exclusions if you're signing a letter of intent, purchase offer or lease-to-own contract. Check the U.S. Department of Justice's national sex offender public website; this should be an essential stop as part of any buyer's or renter's due diligence. It doesn't guarantee you will avoid an offender -- E.J. had no way of knowing the predator would move in next door -- but it's a good way of avoiding already entrenched ones.

As for the owners of the home who sold to a serial child-predator knowing 3 young kids lived next door: they were either very desperate or recklessly indifferent, assuming they knew the buyer's history. Either way, though, they still had a legal right to sell to whom they pleased, barring anything like homeowners association screening requirements.

As hard as it is to uproot kids from a neighborhood they're digging into, it's far worse than constantly worrying about a serial predator lurking next door.

Good luck in your next neighborhood.

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