Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 12:47 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

A Virginia Circuit Court case highlights the expense and time commitment required when a homeowner sues a common interest community (referred to as “HOA” in this article). Furthermore, this case illustrates that HOAs can rarely predict or control when they may be dragged into a lawsuit.

In this case, Hornstein v. Federal Hill Homeowners Association, a homeowner had her house for sale with a pending sales contract. Pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 55-509.5, the HOA provided a disclosure packet that revealed that the homeowner’s fence was not located on her property. In fact, the homeowner’s own survey confirmed that fact. The pending sales contract fell through.

The homeowner sued the HOA in Fairfax Circuit Court for slander of title and tortious interference with contract, including a claim for “bodily injury,” and “mental anguish.” The HOA prevailed in the case, leading to the homeowner’s petition for appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. [UPDATED: The Virginia Supreme Court refused to hear the case, meaning that the Circuit Court's decision stands].

Another battle has been waged regarding whether the HOA’s insurance carrier had a duty to defend the HOA in the underlying litigation. When the HOA’s insurance carrier denied coverage and representation, the HOA sued the insurance carrier. The case was removed to the federal court. The 4th Circuit District Court agreed with the insurance carrier. The HOA appealed and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and held that the insurance carrier had a duty to defend. The insurance carrier has appealed for a rehearing. [UPDATED: the insurance carrier lost its appeal and was ordered to pay the HOA $217,308.86 for the attorneys' fees the HOA incurred].

For a brief review, the HOA provided the disclosure packet in February 2006. After the homeowner’s pending sale fell through, she sued the HOA in August 2007. As we near August 2010, the underlying case may be close to resolution, but litigation with the insurance company may be far from resolving. Based upon the amount of litigation, we can assume that the HOA’s attorneys’ fees have reached six figures. Obviously, payment for these attorneys’ fees is then passed onto the homeowners (unless the case shifts payment of the attorneys’ fees to the losing party, but even then, courts rarely award the full 100% of the incurred fees).

Many lessons can be drawn from this experience. Most importantly, HOAs need to review their insurance policies to make sure they are covered fully for worst case scenarios. Our experience has shown that “anybody can sue anybody for anything at any time.” Although the plaintiff may not win (and did not win in this case), the ensuing litigation will take abundant resources. We can help you review your documents and insurance policies with the necessary professionals to protect your HOA, and homeowner interests.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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Another Thanks to Construction Law Musings – HOAs and Construction Defects

October 30, 2014 on 12:47 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, Unit Owners Association | 1 Comment

Richmond Construction Law attorney Chris Hill, my friend and colleague, permitted me another opportunity to blog at his award-winning blog Construction Law Musings. Chris is an outstanding Virginia attorney, and his blog is a great source of information on construction law, including the intricacies of mechanic’s liens. You can also follow him on Twitter, @ConstructionLaw.

Chris has a regular feature called “Guest Post Friday” in which he invites other bloggers to contribute to his Musings. For this blog, we wrote a post exploring the statutory warranties, provided in Va. Code § 55-79.79 of the Condominium Act, that require the Declarant to warrant “all of the common elements for two years.”

Here’s a brief excerpt of the post:

When either a commercial or residential condominium development nears the time of automatic transition, the developer and the owners face many challenges. The developer, or “Declarant,” must transfer responsibility for management, enforcement of the Condominium Instruments, and finances, amongst other responsibilities, to the new owner-controlled Board of Directors. With the pending departure of the Declarant, owners can become concerned about possible construction defects with the common elements. This blog post discusses the process and responsibilities under the statutory warranties provided by the Virginia Condominium Act.

Read the complete blog at Construction Law Musings, as well as many other informative posts on Chris’ outstanding blog. Thanks again, Chris!

Thank you

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Zoning and “Adaptive Reuse” – What does that actually mean?

October 30, 2014 on 12:47 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, Land Use Planning, Real Estate Strategies, Zoning | No Comments
Our Summer Associate for 2012 is Scott Foster, a rising second-year law student at the William & Mary Law School. Weeks before his undergraduate graduation from William & Mary, Scott became the first person ever elected to the Williamsburg City Council, while still a William & Mary studentScott still serves on the City Council while attending law school and working for us. This blog post is Scott’s first for our firm.

While growing up in western Virginia, one of my favorite restaurants was in a converted train depot. On several occasions my parents walked me through the tobacco warehouses in Farmville, Virginia filled with fine furniture and rugs. There was even a bed and breakfast nearby with rooms in a grain silo. Although I did not realize it at the time, these businesses were examples of “adaptive reuse.”

DOG Street Pub, the former SunTrust Bank

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Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite. . .Your Condominium Neighbor!

October 30, 2014 on 12:47 pm | In Common Interest Community, Contributors, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Megan Scanlon, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

When water leaks from one condominium into another, determining the responsible party is usually not too difficult.  But what about when the hazard isn’t water, but bed bugs, parasitic insects of the cimicid family that feed exclusively on blood and often take up residence nearby or inside of beds, bedding and/or other sleep areas, who is responsible then? This blog post will review some of the issues regarding condos and bedbugs.

Bedbugs and Condos

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Real Estate Listing Agreements are Contracts – Do you know your rights and obligations?

October 30, 2014 on 12:47 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies | No Comments

No sooner had we posted our blog article on the enforceability of listing agreements even when they are not in writing, another recent case came to our attention. This case is from the New Kent County Circuit Court. This case is another example of the increasing acrimony between sellers and brokers in a tight real estate market.

House For Sale

Listing Agreements

 

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Have You Updated Your HOA Management Contract Lately?

October 30, 2014 on 12:47 pm | In Business Law, Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Many of us are so busy in performing the work that we are hired to do that we often neglect the housekeeping we should do for our businesses. Management agreements with community associations may fall into this category. As with many agreements in which sections are revised but the whole contract is not reviewed, management agreements can take on a life of their own as they are tweaked here and there. In this blog, we discuss the need to take time to have your forms and contracts reviewed to ensure that your management company is protected by the agreement, that it reflects current law, and that it comports to any required regulations.

 Contract

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Smile! You’re on HOA Meeting Camera! Can I videotape my HOA meeting?

October 30, 2014 on 12:47 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Megan Scanlon, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

If you work with community associations in Virginia as a board member, manager or attorney, you probably know that Virginia law permits HOA members to record any open meeting of the association. The relevant statute, Virginia Code § 55-510.1(B) of the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act, contains one short paragraph which outlines the recording requirement as follows:

Any member may record any portion of a meeting required to be open. The board of directors or subcommittee or other committee thereof conducting the meeting may adopt rules (i) governing the placement and use of equipment necessary for recording a meeting to prevent interference with the proceedings and (ii) requiring the member recording the meeting to provide notice that the meeting is being recorded.

The provision gives associations the authority to adopt rules with respect to the recording of meetings, however, the authority to enact rules is very narrow in scope:

1. The association is permitted to establish rules regarding only the placement and use of the equipment; and

2.  The member recording is required to provide notice that they are recording the meeting.

Association rules that reach farther than these two items violate the Property Owners’ Association Act according to a recent Determination issued by the Office of the Common Interest Community Ombudsman (“Ombudsman”).

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Employee Non-Competes: Why Must Prospective Employers Be Wary?

October 30, 2014 on 12:47 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, General Interest, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We have written previously about employee “non-competes” (a/k/a covenants not to compete or non-competition agreements). You may have come across them in your own business, either by requiring them of your own employees or seeking to hire someone subject to a non-compete.   However, the area of law surrounding non-competition agreements can be tricky, and a new decision has added to the intrigue.

In DePuy Synthes Sales, Inc. v. Jones, the Eastern District of Virginia denied two motions to dismiss filed by the new employers of employees governed by non-compete agreements. DePuy employed two salespersons pursuant to employment agreements that contained non-compete provisions. They eventually left DePuy and began working for a competitor, Sky Surgical. DePuy sued the employees and Sky Surgical. This blog post examines the tortious interference of employment contract claim made by DePuy against the new employer, Sky Surgical.

employee noncompete agreement

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Unauthorized Practice of Law: When unlicensed attorneys serve as HOA board members

October 30, 2014 on 12:47 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Merger & Acquisition, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

An article in the Virginia Gazette featured a story regarding the indictment of a local attorney for the unauthorized practice of law; a criminal charge classified as a class 1 misdemeanor. Although those allegations did not involve a homeowner association, it highlights a recurring issue for volunteer boards of directors for many organizations including homeowner associations and not-for-profit organizations on which attorneys serve. This article focuses on those issues facing boards for homeowner associations (“HOAs”) but the issues are similar for other volunteer boards of directors.

 

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Email scams (continued)

October 30, 2014 on 12:47 pm | In General Interest, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We have previously written a blog piece warning of increased email scam activity and sophistication. Expect more. Another victim of these email scams has come to light, and this victim was a lawyer. An article in Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly told the story of a lawyer victim of a successful email scam. This blog post provides another warning against these scams.

Email

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