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March 16, 2013

Family sues to force sex offender to buy their home

This is new, but there is no proof that their home has lost value; that is a myth perpetrated by real estate brokers. See this study which exposes the myth. However, if their home has lost value, then anyone including the RSO should be able to buy it at the reduced value.
3-16-2013 Pennsylvania:

Upper Milford couple want neighbor who abused their daughter to buy their house.

The parents of a Lehigh County child molested by a neighbor have taken an unusual step to get away from the man who abused their daughter. They want to force him to buy their property.

The Upper Milford Township couple says Oliver Larry Beck's presence in their neighborhood has made their home impossible to sell. They've filed a lawsuit in Lehigh County Court asking a judge to order Beck, his wife and his mother to buy their property, which they say is worth $235,000.

They also want Beck to pay their moving costs and have requested punitive damages for the child's pain and suffering and for economic damages.

Beck, now 65, pleaded guilty in 2011 to indecent assault of a child under 13 and was sentenced to three to 23 months in prison. He is out of prison but under Megan's Law must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

The family is "under duress to move from their current residence" and away from Beck, according to the lawsuit.

Some attorneys say the suit, if successful, would open the floodgates to the courts. Those interviewed could not point to a lawsuit with a similar request.

"I have never heard of that and the court may say it has no authority to order that," said Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia Law School professor. "If the house, in fact, lost value, and if the owners are entitled to recover for that, that value can be awarded in damages without transferring ownership of the house.

"Selling the house to the offender might be a sensible part of a settlement, but it would be odd as a court-ordered remedy."

Anthony Sabino, an associate law professor at St. John's University, said forcing a person to buy someone else's home could be deemed unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment.

Easton defense attorney Gary Asteak said the request would be a tough sell to a jury.

"This is taking our litigious society to the most absurd extremes," he said. "Certainly, I think a jury in our community would treat [the suit] with skepticism."

But Jennifer Storm, a sexual assault survivor and executive director of the Victim/Witness Assistance Program in Harrisburg, believes it has merit and called it a creative and legitimate case.

"I applaud any effort that a victim can take to ensure their well-being," Storm said. "I think this could be a good case to potentially set precedent."

Diane M. Sodano, the Bucks County attorney who filed the lawsuit, declined to discuss the case, which is still pending. The victim and her family are identified only by their initials in the lawsuit. The Morning Call does not identify the victims of sex crimes without their consent.

Robert J. Magee, the Allentown attorney representing Beck, in addition to Beck's wife and mother, said his clients didn't want him to discuss the case.

But in a court brief filed this month, Magee said the lawsuit's demand for the home purchase is "not appropriate or authorized under a legal or equitable theory." He added that the couple are still able to use and enjoy their property.

He added, "This is just a type of injury that allows for no recourse, an injury without a remedy."

In a court brief, Magee cites a lawsuit filed by Philadelphia property owners who claimed a federal Superfund site nearby made their house hard to sell. That suit was dismissed.

Pennsylvania Superior Court chimed in that allowing financial recovery in that case "would open the proverbial floodgates."

"Any time a property owner engaged in an activity that ostensibly reduced surrounding property values, liability would attach," the decision says. "Hence, a property owner opening an unpopular public housing project or an AIDS clinic would be strictly liable for a decline in the surrounding property values.

"Although hazardous waste contamination is undeniably pernicious, when such contamination only impacts a property owner's ability to sell his or her property, a nuisance action does not exist."

Investigators said that in February 2011, Beck lured the victim, then 7 years old, into his house by saying he wanted to show her a bear's head mounted in his basement. After telling the girl to feel the bear, Beck told her to take off her shirt and pants and then assaulted her, according to court records.

When the victim's father found out, he called police.

A judge ordered Beck not to have unsupervised contact with anyone younger than 18 and to have no contact with the victim and her family.

The lawsuit also seeks punitive damages for the child, alleging that Beck developed a friendly but fraudulent relationship with her and her family.

Though Beck was convicted of only one incident, the lawsuit claims he touched the girl multiple times between 2009 and 2011 and videotaped one of the encounters. The suit says Beck took the girl on four-wheeler rides, shot a BB gun with her and gave her candy and gifts.

The suit accuses Beck of sexual assault, negligence and inflicting emotional distress, among other allegations. It accuses Beck's wife and mother of negligence, claiming they knew or should have known of Beck's attraction to girls and the risk he posed.

Beck's victim suffered emotional distress, shame and embarrassment and will indefinitely need therapy and counseling, the suit says.

The state Supreme Court in 2011 ruled that local laws restricting where sex offenders may live interfere with the state's system of tracking and rehabilitating them. The decision struck down an Allegheny County law that barred sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of schools, parks and day-care centers.

Last year, an Arizona appeals court ruled that home sellers and their real estate agents aren't obligated to tell buyers that a registered sex offender lives next door.

In their lawsuit, the Upper Milford family say they would feel ethically and legally obligated to disclose the proximity of their property to Beck's home.

Henry Lerner, an attorney for the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, said it's a home buyer's responsibility to research a property.

He said the buyer contract and agreement of sale published by his organization points out the state's Megan's Law website and recommends that buyers look at the registry.

"Not to minimize the issue of sex offenders, but there could be a lot of things affecting one's use of a property and it's up to the buyer to do their own research," Lerner said.

He noted Pennsylvania Superior Court recently ruled that property sellers do not have to reveal notorious events such as murders on disclosure statements.

"The gist of the ruling was that the seller disclosure law is meant to apply to defects of your particular property," Lerner said. "So, the fact that someone was shot there, while a bad thing, was not something that made the property defective. I would say that [the sex offender issue] would be a similar sort of thing. It's something that exists, but is not a problem of the property."

There is some scientific evidence that sex offenders lower property values.

Two economics professors at Columbia Business School in 2008 studied the effect, finding that the value of homes within one-tenth of a mile of a sex offender dropped by an average of 4 percent.

Jonah Rockoff, one of the study's authors, said the decrease was about 12 percent for properties next door to sex offenders. He said subsequent studies have shown similar results.

"It's clear that having a sex offender nearby depresses the value of a home," he said. "Whether that entitles the nearby homeowner to some kind of compensation is a completely separate question."

A similar study by Jeren C. Pope, now an assistant economics professor at Brigham Young University, showed housing prices fell by 2.3 percent in some Florida neighborhoods after sex offenders moved in. Pope's research found that housing prices appeared to immediately rebound once a sex offender moved out. ..Source.. by By Patrick Lester

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