Can a Registered Sex Offender Move in Next Door?
Individuals convicted or adjudicated of certain sexual offenses are required to register with a local law enforcement agency for a certain period of time, sometimes for life. The Texas Department of Public Safety compiles all of the local law enforcement registrations into a statewide sex offender registration database, known as the Texas Public Sex Offender Registry, which can be accessed by the public. Other regulations may also apply to a particular sex offender, depending on their individual risk assessment or the type of offense they were convicted or adjudicated of. This article examines some of those regulations; especially those pertaining to where a sex offender may live.
A seller or lessor of single-family residential property has no duty to disclose any information about existing sex offender residences to a prospective buyer or lessee. Therefore, it is generally up to the buyer or lessee to discover the information for themselves. Many prospective buyers and lessees check the Texas Public Sex Offender Registry prior to purchasing or leasing property, and it is reasonable to assume that they would not purchase or lease property if the registry shows a sex offender living within a certain proximity—let’s call it their “comfort zone.” However, even if the registry does not show a sex offender living within their comfort zone at the time of purchase or lease, one or more may nevertheless move into their comfort zone in the future, or someone already living there may later become a sex offender. If a prospective buyer or lessee is concerned about the possibility of a sex offender residing within their comfort zone, then there are a few things they ought to consider:
First, Child Safety Zones. If a sex offender is on parole or mandatory supervision for one of a few enumerated offenses, and the victim of the offense was a child, the Board of Pardons and Paroles must establish a Child Safety Zone for the offender, which requires that the offender not go in, on, or within a specified distance of premises where children commonly gather, including a school, day-care facility, playground, public or private youth center, public swimming pool, or video arcade facility. By policy of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the standard distance is 500 feet, but that distance may be modified by the board on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, a prospective buyer or lessee may reduce the chances of a sex offender moving in next door if they buy or lease a property within 500 feet of a Child Safety Zone. However, this would only reduce the chances of certain sex offenders from moving in, and only while they are on parole or mandatory supervision.
Second, SORROs. Some cities have adopted Sex Offender Residency Restriction Ordinances (“SORROs”), which prohibit affected sex offenders from residing within certain distances of certain places. These ordinances are similar to the State’s Child Safety Zone law, but typically apply to a broader class of sex offenders and have increased distance limitations. Therefore, to avoid the possibility of living near a sex offender, a prospective buyer or lessee may consider property within a city that has a SORRO, and which falls within the areas protected by the SORRO. However, cities may amend their SORROs at any time, and many SORROs are being challenged by advocacy groups seeking to have them invalidated for various reasons. Also, a sex offender’s existing residence may be “grandfathered” under a SORRO that came into effect after the residence was established, so living within an area protected by a SORRO is not an absolute guarantee that a sex offender will not be living next door.
Third, Restrictive Covenants. Some communities are governed by restrictive covenants which prohibit the selling or leasing of property if the buyer, lessor, or a future occupant is a sex offender. Other covenants may prohibit a sex offender from residing on the restricted property. Therefore, to reduce the possibility of a sex offender moving into their comfort zone, prospective buyers or lessors may buy or lease property subject to such restrictive covenants. However, restrictive covenants are not necessarily infallible. Restrictive covenants may be waived if they are not properly enforced. Additionally, some people have argued that sex offender restrictions are invalid for various reasons, but such arguments seem to be merely academic at the moment, as there does not appear to be any pending or successful challenges to speak of.
In practice, there is no surefire way to guarantee that a sex offender cannot someday become your next-door neighbor, but if you manage to find a property that is within 500 feet of a Child Safety Zone, is within a city that has a SORRO in effect, and that is governed by restrictive covenants prohibiting a sex offender from buying, leasing, or residing at the surrounding restricted property, then you are shrouded in just about every layer of protection possible.
Byron L. Brown is an attorney with the Randle Law Office in Houston, Texas, where his practice areas include municipal economic development, municipal franchises and commercial lease litigation. He graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a B.A. in Criminal Justice, and earned his J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center.