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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.

Benefits of Community Associations Part 1: Are HOAs really as bad as some portray?

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

 

Community Associations have been the subject of a lot of bad press lately. An Associated Press article is typical of news reports that lambast associations. The article tells about a 55-and-older condo complex in Florida. According to the article, units in the Inlet House condo complex used to be worth $79,000, but sold for as little as $3,000 after rats started chewing through toilet seats and sewage started leaking from the ceiling. The article goes on to vilify the condo association for levying a $6,000 special assessment on residents and then foreclosing on owners who don’t pay their dues.

In its eagerness to blame the condo association for the woes of these senior citizens, the article and many blogs pointing out the “abuses of HOAs” miss an important point: the association may be the only group really looking out for the interests of the owners. Let’s look at what the article does not allege: it does not allege that the Association was responsible for the rat infestation or the sewage leak and it does not allege that the Association could have prevented the housing meltdown that contributed to the decline in property values.

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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?

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 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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Holiday Lights and your HOA

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on Holiday Lights and your HOA
Happy Holidays

The Virginia Supreme Court has issued another ruling specifying the limitations of homeowners associations to enact guidelines, rules, and regulations that exceed the scope of their authority.

We had written previously about attempts by HOAs to regulate holiday decorations. The first item on our suggested checklist to assist homeowners association was “Does the Board have the authority to regulate holiday decorations? If not, your inquiry stops here.” As it turns out, that is the basis for the Court’s decision in Sainani v. Belmont Glen Homeowners Association.

In Sainani, the association adopted guidelines for “Seasonal Holiday Decorations” (the “Guidelines”) to regulate various aspects of homeowners’ display of exterior lighting. The trial court found that the homeowners violated the Guidelines by having the “lights . . . on 24/7” for “at least 300 days a year.”

On appeal, the homeowners argued that the Guidelines exceeded the HOA’s authority and were unenforceable. The Virginia Supreme Court agreed. In essence, the Court specifically stated that “None of the covenants in the amended declaration can be construed to authorize the seasonal guidelines, and thus, the seasonal guidelines exceed the scope of the HOA’s authority.”

As we wrote in another blog post analyzing an unpublished order from the Virginia Supreme Court in the case of Shadowood Condominium Association et al., v. Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority, “Unless the . . . governing documents specifically permit the common interest community to impose the charges and/or suspension of rights for violations of the documents . . . it is likely that a court may find against the association where the owner contests such actions.” The Sainani case will have ramifications for HOAs who do not follow those guidelines.

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Emails from work computer can waive rights to privileged communications

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 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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Virginia HOAs and Olde Belhaven – Guest Post on Construction Law Musings

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

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

For Chris’ blog, we wrote a post exploring the Olde Belhaven case that made it into the national media. Our take is that we must remember that HOA Governing Documents are drafted by counsel for the developers, and when the developers leave, the enforcement of those restrictions is left to the volunteer Boards of Directors of your neighborhood.

Here’s a brief excerpt of the post:

A recent case highlights what happens when an Association’s Board of Directors, trying to uphold its fiduciary duty by enforcing and upholding its governing documents goes head to head with homeowners, both believing that they are in the right. . . .

Our experience is that the volunteer Boards of Directors, when faced with tough choices, try to make decisions consistent with their fiduciary duties, in an attempt to protect the rights of all the owners in the neighborhood. That doesn’t mean they always make the right decisions, but these ordinary people are not ogres, either.

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

Williamsburg Virginia HOA Lawyers

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Virginia Statute – HOAs must adopt “Cost Schedule” to recover copy costs

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

The Virginia Code has provisions that provide members of condominium associations and homeowner associations with the ability to request copies of books and records. The statutes have also permitted  associations to recover the costs of copying the requested books and records.

This blog post highlights a new statutory provision affecting common interest communities. On July 1, 2012, HOAs and condo associations will only be able to recover these copying costs if the association has adopted a cost schedule.

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When is a “Contract” not a Contract?

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 pm | In Business Planning, Construction litigation, General Interest, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We know that in Virginia, the parties to a contract are bound to the terms of that contract. We also know that Virginia courts look to the terms of that contract to determine each party’s rights and obligations. But what is a “contract?” This blog post looks at a recent Virginia Supreme Court case that gives a little guidance to answer that question.

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Neighbor Law: Tips for Avoiding Boundary Line Disputes

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 pm | In Construction litigation, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Few real estate topics cause more disputes between owners than those involving activities at a common boundary. We have reviewed boundary line disputes involving trees that straddle property lines and fences that encroach upon boundary lines.

A recent Portsmouth case highlights another issue relating to boundary lines.

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Make sure HOA Document Amendments are properly certified

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on Make sure HOA Document Amendments are properly certified

The Virginia Supreme Court’s opinion in Tvardek, et al v. Powhatan Village Homeowners Association, Inc. highlights how critical it is to not only amend your HOA documents in compliance with the law and your existing documents, but to make sure that the amended document that gets recorded properly memorializes that you did so.

The Tvardeks filed a declaratory judgment action in 2013 against Powhatan Village Homeowners Association, Inc. (“Powhatan Village”) to challenge a 2008 amendment to the association covenants that included a provision restricting the owners’ ability to rent their homes. Powhatan Village filed a special plea in bar requesting dismissal of the action as untimely citing the one-year statute of limitations in Va. Code Ann. § 55-515.1(E). Declining to hear any evidence, the Circuit Court made a decision on the pleadings and argument of counsel, ruling in favor of Powhatan Village’s argument that the claim was time-barred. The Circuit Court also awarded Powhatan Village $12,000 in attorney fees.

The Tvardeks appealed the case. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed the Circuit Court’s ruling, determining that the case was not barred by the one-year statute of limitations. The attorney fee award was also reversed.

Williamsburg Courthouse

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Who pays when a tree falls on my property?

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 pm | In General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | 2 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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