Panty Thief
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PANTY THIEF

QUESTION: There is a man living in our complex who appears to have Down's syndrome. He goes to the laundry facilities and steals women’s underwear and bras. He has even tugged on a girl’s underwear as she was bending over. The board is afraid of lawsuits and refuses to send the owner a letter. If anyone complains, they say "go to the police." What can we do?

ANSWER: Your board may be unduly concerned about disability rights. Fortunately, the law only requires "reasonable" accommodation of disabilities. There is no law or case giving a disabled person the right to steal undergarments. That means your panty thief may create liability for your association if the board refuses to act.

Association Liability. While the association is normally not responsible for the criminal acts of a third party, Frances T. v. Village Green made an exception when the crime is foreseeable. In Frances T, the board knew about the increased crime in the area, failed to install exterior lighting Frances T. had requested (to make her unit safer) and actively prevented her from installing lighting. She was subsequently raped and robbed in her unit. The court found the association and its directors liable because the harm was foreseeable and they did nothing.

With your panty thief, it is foreseeable the thefts will continue and may escalate into something more physical. If so, your association could be liable for your board's failure to act. Simply saying “Go to the police” will not remove the liability exposure.

Board's Options. The courts provide a wide degree of latitude to board decisions so there is no right or wrong option, aside from doing nothing. The board can use the nuisance provision of your CC&Rs to call a hearing to warn the owner. If the behavior continues, fines can be levied (following another hearing). If that does not work, a letter from legal counsel threatening litigation can be next. Ultimately, a lawsuit may be necessary. If needed, the board can skip the early steps and jump to a lawyer letter and potential litigation.

Notice to Members. Should the members be warned? Notifying owners can be tricky. If you don't notify the membership and your panty thief escalates to sexual assaults, your board could be sued for failing to warn the members. If the board says too much, they could be sued by the panty thief. It's the same problem boards face when a registered sex offender moves into a complex. They can't post a notice that sex offender Dilbert Smith moved into unit 301. They must be more circumspect.

ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.

Adams Stirling PLC