Dear Real Estate Adviser,
Do I have to accept an offer for my home from a registered sex offender?
— Maryanne S.

House for sale | Phillip Spears/Getty Images

Dear Maryanne,
Great question. Most inquiries about registered sex offenders are from sellers, wondering if they’re obligated to disclose a neighborhood sex offender to a buyer, especially if that offender is a pedophile and the buyer has kids. Shockingly, most of the time they aren’t!

But relax. You should be OK in this case unless you’ve already signed a contract to sell, in which case you wouldn’t be able to exit simply due to your discomfort or the neighbors’ discomfort. With a signed contract in hand, the buyer could try to demand “specific performance” and sue to force you to sell, though these suits usually accomplish little other than forcing the seller to repay the buyer’s court fees and any due diligence and moving preparation costs.

Your rights as a home seller

In fact, you can refuse to accept a purchase offer from a sex offender or anyone else as long as your refusal is not in violation of the Fair Housing Act (Title 8). A joint statement by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice says “… sex offenders, by virtue of that status, are not persons with disabilities protected by the Act.”

Protected buyer classes/categories under Title 8 are race, color, sex, religion, familial status (buyer has children or is pregnant), natural origin and physical or mental disability. However, many states have added their own classes such as sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, political ideology, military status and use of a service animal.

I mention these just in case the offender also happens to be a member of one of them and tries to claim discrimination. In such a rare (and almost always unsuccessful) lawsuit brought by a sex offender, you’d need to see an attorney pronto.

How to find a registered sex offender

You don’t say how you discovered the buyer was a sex offender. (You can check the national registry at NSOPW.gov.) But to my knowledge, there are no laws that specifically require buyers’ agents to disclose to a seller or seller’s agent that their buyer is a sex offender. In fact, doing so might be a breach of the agent’s fiduciary duty since the buyer would probably consider this confidential information. So good job in discovering this! (Yikes, I sure don’t envy sex offenders’ buying agents.)

Since sex offenders aren’t a protected class, I think you’re pretty much in the clear in nixing this buyer, minus a signed contract, of course. I also think your neighborhood owes you a big going-away party.

Better luck with the next buyer!

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