Q: After taking a listing, the REALTOR® was informed by the neighbors that one of the residents in the area is listed on the Virginia State Police Sex Offender Web site. She wants to know if she must disclose this information to potential purchasers.
The Virginia Residential Property Disclosure Act, as amended July 1, 2020, (the “Act”) governs required disclosures in Virginia real estate transactions. Contrary to popular belief, sellers subject to the Act have no obligation to disclose information on sexual offenders registered under Chapter 23 (§ 19.2-387 et seq.) of Title 19.2. Instead, the Residential Property Disclosure Statement prepared by the Real Estate Board (and provided by seller) contains the following language regarding sex offenders:
“[t]he owner makes no representations with respect to information on any sexual offenders registered under Chapter 23 (§ 19.2-387 et seq.) of Title 19.2, and purchasers are advised to exercise whatever due diligence they deem necessary with respect to such information, in accordance with terms and conditions as may be contained in the real estate purchase contract, but in any event prior to settlement pursuant to such contract.”
Article 2 of the Code of Ethics requires REALTORS® to disclose “pertinent facts” related to the “property or transaction”. Standard of Practice 2-5 of the Code of Ethics removes “sex offenders” from the list of pertinent facts that need to be disclosed under Article 2 of the Code of Ethics because this type of disclosure is specifically not required by Virginia law. However, Article 1 prohibits intentional misrepresentations by REALTORS®, if directly asked and have actual knowledge.
REALTORS® should also recognize that advising a client about issues related to the dangers of sex offenders is probably outside the scope of their real estate license because it deals with complex legal issues. The Virginia Sex Offender website only provides basic information about the offense and the average REALTOR® is likely not familiar enough with Virginia criminal law to distinguish between the various criminal violations. REALTORS® are not experts in this area and should refer their clients to the law enforcement officials or legal experts who could assist the purchasers in understanding the differences between all the criminal statutes involved and the possible danger posed by individuals convicted of these crimes. As always, contact the Legal Hotline if you any additional questions.