Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 12:34 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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Virginia Supreme Court upholds arbitration award granted to homeowners who sued their HOA

October 30, 2014 on 12:34 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

It is relatively routine for developers or “declarants” to include arbitration provisions into the declaration of restrictive covenants recorded to establish a common interest community. Generally, arbitration clauses are preferred by developers for a variety of reasons including avoiding a jury and having a say in the choice of the fact-finder. However, those decisions made by the developers have long lasting effects upon homeowner boards following transition, because it is difficult for a board to effect a change in the documents.

 

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One important tip for your construction project – Change Orders

October 30, 2014 on 12:34 pm | In Construction litigation, General Interest, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

The DPOR regulations require Class A Contractors to obtain written change orders “which are signed by both the consumer and the licensee.” This requirement sounds pretty reasonable and easy to maintain, yet the reality is that many contractors fail to fully comply with this provision, leading to possible problems down the road.

 

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Choosing your Virginia Business Entity

October 30, 2014 on 12:34 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson | No Comments

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There are many questions to ask and many issues to resolve when you decide to start your Virginia business entity. The time to ask those questions and resolve those issues is before you enter into your business agreement.

Neal’s 3-minute slideshow presentation gives an a brief primer on the forms of entities that are available and questions to start your dialog with your business attorney and business partners. This slideshow combines basic information with more advanced concepts for the more experienced entrepreneur.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

Neal Robinson

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Mediation and Arbitration – There is a big difference

October 30, 2014 on 12:34 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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Does Virginia law require an HOA to transition automatically to homeowner control of the Board of Directors?

October 30, 2014 on 12:34 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Over the course of the past few years, homeowners in the Williamsburg development of Kingsmill on the James have become more vocal over the continued control by the community’s developer, Busch Properties, Inc. In May 2010, Kingsmill resident and a William & Mary Law School professor filed a lawsuit against Busch Properties. On August 20, 2010, the Williamsburg/James City Circuit Court heard the demurrer filed by Busch Properties. The court granted the demurrer. The Plaintiff appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court. The Court declined to hear the appeal. The Plaintiff filed a petition for rehearing that the Court refused to hear by an order dated June 16, 2011.

Williamsburg Virginia HOA Lawyers

HOA Transition

 

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Update for Limited Liability Companies: What happens to Membership Interest when a Member Dies?

October 30, 2014 on 12:34 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, John Tarley | No Comments

We blogged about the Virginia Supreme Court case of Ott v. Monroe. In that case, the Court ruled that when a father, in his will, assigned his majority interest in a limited liability company to his daughter, he only assigned a profit interest, not a control interest. Consequently, his daughter did not have the authority to “run” the company, absent the consent of the remaining LLC members.

In its 2013 session, the General Assembly modified the relevant LLC statutes in an attempt to overturn the Virginia Supreme Court’s decision. This blog post examines the new statute, and how it may impact your limited liability company.

Business Deal
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HOA Litigation: Is it avoidable?

October 30, 2014 on 12:34 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Mediation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

We have written previously on the costs—both in time and money—for homeowners and condominium associations to litigate cases. On one hand, boards of directors have a fiduciary duty to uphold the governing documents of associations, but on the other, the board must investigate alternatives to the divisive nature of litigation.

As it turns out, sometimes there is no alternative because a homeowner can sue an HOA, forcing the association to defend. But what efforts can or should a homeowners or condo association take to avoid the consequences of litigation?

A series of recent Virginia cases highlights the consequences associations can face in litigation cases. This blog posts provides a brief summary of those cases and some cautionary advice.

Williamsburg Virginia Business and HOA Lawyers

Board of Directors Meeting

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Emails from work computer can waive rights to privileged communications

October 30, 2014 on 12:34 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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When might a Virginia business be liable for unemployment compensation?

October 30, 2014 on 12:34 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition | No Comments

In the Greater Williamsburg area, many small businesses face seasonal layoffs when the summer tourism season ends. For small businesses, these layoffs lead to questions regarding unemployment compensation. In this blog post, we will discuss the issue of when an employer can be liable for the unemployment compensation for a terminated employee.

 

Generally speaking, an employee terminated by you may be otherwise eligible for unemployment benefits, chargeable to your company if:

The basic qualifications for unemployment compensation are:

Once you have been determined to be the “employer” liable for unemployment compensation, you are responsible for all the benefits payable to that former employee. Unless extended benefits have been approved, the maximum benefit is 26 times the weekly benefits payable to the employee.

The weekly benefits are found in a table at Virginia Code § 60.1-602. This table is regularly updated, it tells you how much a person would receive per week in unemployment, based upon the amount they made when employed. For example, if a person made $6,300 in the prior twelve weeks when employed, he would receive $125 per week in unemployment, and a total of $3,250, if he were employed for the entire 26-week period.

The possibility of being liable for unemployment compensation worries many small business owners. Discuss the issue with your business attorney so that you can plan properly for your employment needs.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

 

jt photo 150x150 Using a company computer to email your attorney may be a bad idea

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