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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.

Attorneys’ Fees and Litigation – When fees get awarded to the “Prevailing Party”

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Common Interest Community, Construction litigation, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Mediation, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

In litigation matters involving common interest communities (otherwise known as homeowners associations (“HOAs”) or condominium owners associations (“condo associations”)), the issue of awarding attorneys’ fees for prevailing parties ultimately arises. Generally, the HOA’s Governing Documents or the condo association’s Condominium Instruments contain such a provision. Otherwise, attorneys’ fees may be recoverable by statute for HOAs and condo associations.

These attorney fee-shifting provisions, either by contract or statute, are contrary to the typical “American Rule” cases in which each side pays their own attorneys’ fees. Because litigation has become so expensive to pursue, whether to award attorneys’ fees, and the amount of any award, has become separate litigation on its own at the conclusion of cases.

In the recent case of Dewberry & Davis, Inc. v. C3NS, Inc., the Virginia Supreme Court was faced with the issue of “whether the circuit court erred in applying an attorneys’ fees provision of a contract.” We had previously blogged about this case, because in the underlying contract between the parties, Dewberry & Davis, an engineering company, had limited its liability for damages. The trial court had determined the limitation of liability clause was void, pointing to a recent change to Virginia Code § 54.1-411that permitted an engineering company to include a limitation of liability clause. Because the contract predated the code change, the court determined that those changes “demonstrate that the General Assembly fully intended to alter the statute’s intent.”

The case continued to trial, and eventually, upon appeal, to the Virginia Supreme Court. This blog post explains that Supreme Court decision relating to the award of attorneys’ fees.

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ADA, FHA, and HOAs And Service Animals: Florida Association Sued for housing discrimination

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

A short while ago we wrote a blog piece on the issues relating to community associations regulating service animals. In that blog we noted that the Fair Housing Act (“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.”  In Broward County, Florida, that county’s Civil Rights Division filed suit against a condominium association for violating the FHA by refusing to consider a person’s request for an “emotional servant animal,” a chihuahua.

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What happens if a tree falls from my property onto a public highway causing damage?

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

“Tree law” fascinates us. I guess part of the reason is because many of us have at least one tree on our property, and during severe storms, we fear what would happen if one of those trees fell on our house, our neighbor’s house, or the street. Once the fear subsides, the next question we ask ourselves is “Who would pay if the tree fell on our neighbor’s property or vice versa and caused damage?” Or our neighbor’s tree may overhang our property or its roots may cause damage to our property, “What can we do then?” These issues are important considerations for property owners and community associations when reviewing their insurance policies.

The Virginia Supreme Court added to the small body of Virginia “tree law” cases. In this case, Cline v. Dunlora South, LLC, a man driving on a public road was struck and injured by a tree  that fell from private property. The man sued the property owner, claiming that the property owner’s “conduct constituted a nuisance because [its] lack of care, inspection, servicing, and/or maintenance of the subject property and tree was a condition that imperiled the safety of the public highway immediately adjacent to the property and tree, creating a danger and hazard to motorists and/or pedestrians.” The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, and on appeal the Virginia Supreme Court agreed that the property owner did not have “a duty to protect travelers on an adjoining public roadway from natural conditions on his or her land.” This blog post reviews that decision and what it means for us.

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Community Association COVID-19 Update – Change in Board meeting requirements during State of Emergency and Guidance on Closing Association facilities

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on Community Association COVID-19 Update – Change in Board meeting requirements during State of Emergency and Guidance on Closing Association facilities

We have pointed out the fluidity of this pandemic, and now we have some updates for you on holding meetings and closing facilities (including pools). We have received relief on some of the requirements found in the POAA and the Condominium Act on holding remote meetings.  We have also obtained information on the closing of community association pools.

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Community Association operations during COVID-19

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on Community Association operations during COVID-19

We have received many questions about how community associations should adjust their operations to comply with the health guidance on COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus. Federal, state and local guidance and requirements change everyday. This article provides you with practical operations advice based on the current guidance that is available. As we have learned during the past weeks, all guidance is subject to change.

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Holiday Lights and your HOA

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 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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(Yet Another) Update on ADA Compliance regarding HOAs, Condos and Swimming Pools

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

We blogged about the extension granted by the Department of Justice for existing pools to comply with the new ADA Standards for providing accessible entry and exits. Just days after issuing its “Final Rule,” the Department of Justice published a fact information page with Questions and Answers regarding Accessibility Requirements for Existing Swimming Pools at Hotels and other Public Accommodations. The DOJ’s Q&A attempts to answer questions regarding whether your pool shall require accommodations. This blog post analyzes the Q&A.

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Benefits of HOAs Part 4: What do homeowners really think about their associations?

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

We’ve mentioned already the abundance of news articles criticizing community associations. If these news stories are to be believed, then associations are unpopular indeed. But is it true that residents living in community associations are unhappy with their association? Research by the Community Associations Institute suggests that it is not. In fact, the research suggests that more people than ever are choosing to live in communities with associations, and the overwhelming majority of those people are happy with their association.

Statistics compiled by the Community Associations Institute show that the number of associations continues to grow. In 1970, just ten thousand communities, with a combined 2.1 million residents, were governed by associations. Today there are over 309,000 communities governed by associations. More than 62 million Americans live in associations. 1.75 million volunteers serve on community association boards, and a full 26 percent of the eligible U.S. population volunteers for an association at some point during a year, according to one estimate. That kind of service simply would not happen if associations were as widely disliked as has been portrayed.

Williamsburg Virginia Business and HOA Lawyers

Common Interest Communities

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How to Run An Effective HOA Board Meeting

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Have you ever asked yourself after an Association board meeting “what went wrong?” The flow of the meeting was off, the meeting went on way too long and the atmosphere was unwelcoming for the owners who came to observe. With some careful preparation and attention to some simple tips, you can leave your next board meeting with the feeling that everything was right on track.  Although we go into much greater detail when we hold our annual Board training seminars for our clients, this blog post provides some helpful tips to run your next board meeting.

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4 Tips to help your HOA protect its Attorney-Client Privilege

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

The Attorney-Client Privilege protects confidential communications between an attorney and his or her client.  This privilege includes communications made to the attorney and communications from the attorney. The Attorney-Client Privilege is designed to encourage clients to communicate with their attorney freely, without fearing disclosure of those communications made in the course of representation. The Attorney-Client Privilege is important because it permits clients to give their attorney complete and uncensored information, enabling their attorney to provide informed and thorough legal advice.

For community associations, the Attorney-Client Privilege belongs to the association and can only be expressly waived by the a decision of the association board or executive organ. However, the privilege can be impliedly waived based on the client’s conduct.  A determination on whether the privilege has been waived will depend on the specific facts of each case. The association will have to establish that the attorney-client relationship existed, that the communication is privileged, and that the privilege was not waived.

Here are four basic tips for the board of your Common Interest Community to follow so that it protects the association’s Attorney-Client Privilege:

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