Monday, November 26, 2007

Sex offender free neighborhoods

Sex offenders banned

New homes in Amarillo neighborhood to have deed restrictions

George Chapman: Principal partner.

The next homes to be built in The Woodlands will be off-limits to registered sex offenders.

New deed restrictions adopted by the G.R. Chapman Limited Partnership, developer of the northwest Amarillo subdivision, bar convicted sex offenders from owning or living, even temporarily, in homes there, said Kent Canada, an attorney for the company.

The restrictions will not affect owners or residents of the 550 homes that already exist in the subdivision. But they will be included in the deeds of homes to be constructed next and will be binding to those who purchase or live in those homes, Canada said.

"We want to try to have a community that is safe all the way around," Justin Chapman said.

The partnership's long-term plan calls for development of 7,800 acres containing as many as 31,000 homes "over the next 100 years," Chapman said.

The Woodlands subdivision is north of West Amarillo Boulevard and west of Western Street and extends west to Soncy Road. Additional land owned by the partnership extends northwestward, beyond the city limits, following Amarillo Creek.

The Chapman partnership isn't the first developer to bar sex offenders from a neighborhood, Canada said, citing the Milwaukee Ridge subdivision in Lubbock and others in New Jersey and Iowa.

Such restrictions have been challenged in court, "but those challenges have been unsuccessful," he said.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of race, religion, gender, age and other specified reasons. But sex offenders "are not a protected class," said Randy Jeffers, an Amarillo real estate broker who is president of the Texas Association of Realtors.

"Obviously, it is a property rights issue, and the developer certainly has a right to place that restriction on their property," Jeffers said. "It's a position that the Texas Association of Realtors certainly wouldn't oppose.

"It begs a whole lot of questions as to what will be the enforcement mechanism ... and I'm sure they've thought through all those things. I guess I'd have to see the whole scope (of the restrictions) before I can really comment on how it would work within the industry."

Under the new restrictions:

  • Sex offenders cannot buy homes in future phases of The Woodlands.

  • A homeowner in those phases cannot subsequently sell his home in any case in which the prospective buyer or any prospective occupant is a sex offender;

  • A homeowner found in violation of the restrictions must sell his home and move.

    Canada said a Woodlands homeowners association, yet to be established, will conduct periodic checks of the Texas Department of Public Safety online database of registered sex offenders. The group will be empowered to take legal action against violators.

    Greg Lines, legal chair for the High Plains Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, did not know, late Wednesday, if the organization has an official position concerning deed restrictions aimed at sex offenders.

    He said his concern would be that such restrictions discriminate against people lumped into a wide category of varying offenses. One example, he said, would be a recent court case in which a man in Alaska was required to register as a sex offender for streaking, an offense committed decades earlier.

    Reaction to Milwaukee Ridge's ban on sex offenders has been positive, said John Sellers, president of I & S Investments, developer of the Lubbock neighborhood. About 150 lots have been sold and 120 homes have been constructed.

    "Before closing, we run a background check on the people that will be living in the house," Sellers said. "If we find out that whoever's going to be living there has a prior sex offense conviction, they're not allowed to live in the house. If everything checks out, they're welcome to move in."

    The Milwaukee Ridge homeowner's association runs checks every 90 days, and those who are found in violation of the policy have 60 days to move out, Sellers said.

    The association can assess a lien of $1,000 a day on the property for the duration of the violation, he said.

    The company promises to buy a home back for the lesser of either 85 percent of its value or the amount of mortgage owed, Sellers said.

    I & S Investments has placed the same restrictions on deeds for a new subdivision it is developing in Lenexa, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City.

    Canada said The Woodlands restriction does not include a buy-back provision and the Chapman partnership does not stipulate a buyer's submission to background checks for all future home occupants because regular checks of the DPS online sex offender registry will be sufficient.