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    The Greater Williamsburg area is an exciting place to live and work, especially because of the large number of entrepreneurs who have built businesses from the ground up. These entrepreneurs have taken their passion and made it their profession. Many of us want to take that step. Before you begin, you need to think of the type of business entity you want to form. Our attorneys have extensive business experience, from small one-person companies to publicly traded major corporations. Our attorneys are among the leaders in Virginia in the representation of Common Interest Communities. These communities are generally referred to as "homeowners associations," or "HOAs," and "condominium associations." In the greater Williamsburg area alone, we provide legal assistance to nearly 100 associations. Our attorneys have successfully prosecuted and defended a wide array of civil disputes involving community association covenant enforcement, commercial transactions, construction disputes, contracts, real estate matters, boundary line and easement disputes, employment matters, antitrust litigation, copyright violations, administrative proceedings, and estate issues. Real Estate law encompasses a wide variety of matters, and our attorneys have vast experience to assist you. Whether you need assistance with a commercial or residential closing, or you have questions relating to residential or commercial leasing, we provide experienced advice and counsel to our clients. Zoning law can be a complicated maze of statutes and ordinances. We have ample experience in successful applications for rezoning, variance, and special use permit requests. Finally, commercial and residential construction provide special challenges with respect to financing issues and the construction process. We serve as counsel to various financial institutions.

Mediation and Arbitration – There is a big difference

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

In conversations with clients, it seems that people misuse the terms “mediation” and “arbitration” more than most other legal terms. Although I do not have any empirical data, my educated guess is that many businesses and construction contractors (who did not depend upon advice given by an experienced business attorney) insert “arbitration” clauses into their contracts thinking that they mean “mediation.” Some transactions involving the sale of real estate include an arbitration clause. Countless times, clients involved in a potential lawsuit point to the “arbitration” clause, and are disheartened when I explain to them the arbitration process. Many thought they were avoiding the potential high costs of litigation. These terms are NOT interchangeable and in this blog post I will explain the basic differences between them.

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Real Estate Listing Agreements for the sale of property: Are they enforceable even if not in writing?

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In General Interest, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Generally speaking a party can enforce an oral agreement. However, courts will not enforce certain contracts unless they are in writing. For example, under Virginia Code § 11-2, commonly known as the Statute of Frauds, an agreement or contract for services to be performed in the sale of real estate by a real estate broker or real estate sales person is not enforceable “[u]nless a promise, contract, agreement, representation, assurance, or ratification, or some memorandum or note thereof, is in writing and signed by the party to be charged or his agent . . . .”

Most real estate agents and brokers understand the importance of having written listing agreements with their sellers. However, a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Virginia points out that even in the absence of a written listing agreement, an oral listing contract may be enforceable if there is sufficient documentation to remove it from the bar to enforcement of the Statute of Frauds. The Virginia Supreme Court, in the case of C. Porter Vaughan, Inc., Realtors v. Most Reverend Francis X. DiLorenzo, Bishop of The Catholic Diocese of Richmond, 279 Va. 449, 689 S.E.2d 656 (2010), better defined what is meant by “sufficient documentation.”

House For Sale

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How does our HOA hire a Reserve Study specialist? (Part 3 of a 3 part series on Reserves)

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Although Virginia law does not address who can perform a reserve study, it is clearly in the best interest of an association to hire a credentialed professional to conduct a reserve study for the community. Professionals who provide reserve studies include licensed Professional Engineers (PE), Architects (AIA and/or RA) and experts such as a Reserve Specialist (RS) or Professional Reserve Analyst (PRA).


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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 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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What happens when your business partner wants to leave? Do’s and Don’ts

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | 2 Comments

It’s a simple fact of business life that you and your company’s fellow shareholders or members will not always see eye-to-eye. Furthermore, our personal lives change and that effects the level of willingness in which some participate in a business venture.

As in any relationship, businesses also reach that awkward stage in which a shareholder or member wants to leave his current business venture and start something new. We have discussed starting your business and provided guidelines for setting forth the rules for governing your business. This article addresses some of the difficulties that arise during the “break-up period.” For the purposes of this article, we will use the terms “shareholder” and “member” interchangeably, as well as the terms “director” and “managing member.”

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Who pays when a tree falls on my property?

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Hurricane Irene left a lot of damage in Virginia. Although the damage was not as great and widespread as caused by Hurricane Isabel, many of us had in excess of ten inches of rain and suffered from many fallen trees. This tree fell in my back yard.

We  previously blogged about issues arising when a neighbor’s vegetation, including trees, encroaches upon our property. In that situation, we can cut the offending vegetation, including roots, back to the common property line. However, if the vegetation is also damaging our property,  the Court can order the complete removal of the offending vegetation and award us compensation for our expenses, including compensation for damages.

After Hurricane Irene, we should visit another question: who pays for damage when my neighbor’s tree falls on my property? Generally speaking, this property law question involves an issue of negligence and insurance. Each situation would require a review of the facts, and a review of your homeowner’s insurance policy, but here is some general guidance:

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In litigation, you can’t always get what you want (especially if you don’t ask)

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In Construction litigation, Contributors, General Interest, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

It’s a fundamental rule in Virginia that the Plaintiff (the person filing a lawsuit) can only recover the relief requested in the Complaint. In a recent unpublished decision, the Virginia Supreme Court reaffirmed the requirement that a party can only get relief if they ask for it.

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A New Twist on Identity Theft and Fraud: How can Realtors, Lenders, Title Companies and Law Firms Protect Your Clients and Yourselves?

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In General Interest, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

A case out of Virginia Beach underscores the deviousness of those who engage in identity theft. As reported in Virginia Lawyers Weekly, Guy Gugliotta owned two lots in Virginia Beach. A local realty company maintained contact with Gugliotta via mail in case he was interested in selling the lots. In 2012 someone purporting to be Gugliotta notified the tax assessors office to change the mailing address for tax bills. Then they notified the realty company that they had decided to sell the lots. The lots were listed for sale and in August, a purchaser made an offer.

The seller documents were handled via mail with the fraudulent seller executing documents in Florida and sending them to the closing agent. Deeds to transfer property require that the seller’s signature be notarized so surely this was the end of the road for the fraudster.

But no, not only did the thief take the identity of the owner; he also took the identity of a notary public in Florida. The notary public declared under oath that it was not his signature and that he had never notarized the documents.

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Emails from work computer can waive rights to privileged communications

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In Business Planning, Construction litigation, General Interest, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation | No Comments

We have written on the issues that arise when employees use their work computer for personal business. In that blog article, we referred to a California case in which an appellate court ruled that an employee’s emails to her attorney were not protected by the attorney-client privilege because the company had a written policy that informed employees that computers were not to be used for personal matters, that emails could be monitored to ensure that employees complied with the policy, and that employees should not expect any privacy in the use of their computers.

In local news, former Delegate Phil Hamilton raised a “marital privilege” objection to the use at trial of emails he sent to his wife. Certain communications to and from a spouse can be protected from disclosure. There were complicating factors to this case’s analysis.

 

Email

 

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HOAs, ADA, and FHA: regulating “Service or Assistance Animals”

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Recent amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) regulations limit the definition of “service animal” to any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The amendments specify that providing “emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks” under the new definition.

On the other hand, if your situation is not an ADA issue but rather a Fair Housing issue, a recent memo clarifies that the new definition is not applicable to the Fair Housing Act (the “FHA”). The FHA does not contain a specific definition of “service animal.” Under the FHA, animals that provide emotional support have, in certain instances, been recognized as necessary assistance animals as a reasonable accommodation. The FHA permits individuals with disabilities to keep an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation when there are limitations imposed by the homeowner or condominium association on animals and pets.


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