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State Law Prohibits Targeting Sex Offenders

July 28, 2002|STEPHEN GLASSMAN and DONIE VANITZIAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: We live in a common interest development in Southern California. We have three children younger than 5.

We have just learned that the ill-tempered man living next door to us for the last six years is a convicted pedophile. He also sits on our homeowner association board.

We want to put a sign out that states: "Pedophiles need not purchase here!" We also want to plaster his picture and name all over our complex and have him removed as a board member. Can we do this without being sued?

Answer: The Davis-Stirling Act says nothing of having the right to remove a person from the board because he is a sex offender. In fact, it makes no mention of requirements or special skills as a prerequisite of sitting on a homeowner association board of directors.

The California courts have ruled that you cannot plaster his name and picture all over your complex without being sued.

Penal Code Section 290.4, added in 1994 and amended in 1996 and 1997, is California's version of Megan's Law. That section provides for the collection and disclosure of information on persons required to register as sex offenders.

Section 290.4 allows limited public access to sex offender registration information through a 900 telephone number and a CD-ROM database available for viewing at your local police or sheriff's station.

When the law was passed, the state Legislature also said that in making information available about sex offenders to the public, it did not intend that the information be used to inflict retribution or additional punishment on any such person convicted of a sexual offense.

Use of the information is limited to protecting a person at risk, such as your children, and to letting people in the area know that a registered sex offender was also living in the neighborhood.

The statute provides an array of penalties for misuse of the information obtained.

Thus, persons who use the information to commit a crime are subject to additional criminal penalties.

In fact, the only disclosure of the information is in accordance with limits set out by the law enforcement agency with which the offender is registered.

Ownership in a common interest development does not allow you to exclude any other owner based on their background, religion, race, sex or profession, just as you could not prevent someone from buying because he is a convicted pedophile.

As for getting the pedophile neighbor off the board, you would have to follow the procedures in your governing documents, which likely say something to the effect that you cannot summarily dismiss an individual from your board.

If he was elected, he serves until he is removed, resigns, dies or a replacement is elected at an election called for that purpose.

Putting out signs that discourage pedophiles does nothing to make your complex secure. Your complex is only as secure as your association makes it, either by hiring security or creating your own association security.

You and your board are cautioned against taking any of the steps you mention because you may be sued for such actions.

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Stephen Glassman is a writer and an attorney in private practice specializing in corporate and business law. Donie Vanitzian, J.D., is a writer and arbitrator and manages commercial property. Both live in common interest developments and have served on various association boards. Please send questions to: Common Interest Living, P.O. Box 451278, Los Angeles, CA 90045 or e-mail your queries to: CIDCommonSense@aol.com.

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