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by Janet Portman, Inman News

Identity photoQ: One of my neighbors informed me that one of my newest tenants is a registered sex offender (I’m not sure how she found this out).

He stated on his rental application that he had a three-year-old felony conviction, but he did not report details.

Figuring that everyone deserves a chance, I did not ask further and rented to him and his wife and two young children, giving them a yearlong lease. They’ve caused no problems. Our local sheriff’s department plans to notify the neighbors of his address and criminal history.

I’m concerned about the safety of this man and his family, as well as how I should handle this situation with the neighbors. Can you please provide me with some guidance on how I should proceed? –Jan

A: You’ve encountered one of the most difficult situations a landlord can find herself in. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.

You were not legally required to ask about your tenant’s criminal history, and you’ve broken no laws by learning that the applicant had a criminal past but not going further to find out what the conviction entailed. And even had you learned the details, a decision to rent nevertheless would not have been illegal. But legalities are one thing, and practicalities are another.
Your fear that neighbors will react negatively to your new tenant is well-founded. Neighbors who learn that a registered offender lives in their midst have often reacted strongly, demanding that the offender move away. Many offenders have been rendered homeless by the refusal of landlords to rent to them (when they provide their history) or the constant harassment of neighbors who want them gone. When the offender is homeless and no longer registering at his home address, the whole point of the registration system (tracking the whereabouts of a registrant) is frustrated.


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To effectively deal with the situation, start with the police department themselves. With luck, you’ll find that they have developed educational materials aimed at answering questions that neighbors commonly ask, and they may be willing to come out to your property and speak to a gathering of the neighbors. Meet immediately with your tenant and his family, and assure them that you will protect their right to live peacefully in their home as long as they have a legal right to live there. Understand that until these tenants give you a legal reason to terminate their tenancy, your (or your neighbors’) fear alone that the father will commit a crime on the premises will not support a decision to terminate their lease or evict them.

Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of “Every Landlord’s Legal Guide” and “Every Tenant’s Legal Guide.” She can be reached at What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

Copyright 2008 Janet Portman

See Janet Portman’s feature, Why Landlords Need Liability Insurance.

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