HOA Litigation: Is it avoidable?

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 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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Does Virginia law require an HOA to transition automatically to homeowner control of the Board of Directors?

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 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 on using work email – American Bar Association says lawyers must caution clients of risks

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 pm | In Construction litigation, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We continually warn about the use of work email accounts to correspond with your attorney:

The American Bar Association has now opined that lawyers should “warn the client about the risk of sending or receiving electronic communications using a computer or other device, or e-mail account, where there is a significant risk that a third party may gain access.” Although the ABA’s opinion is not binding upon any state regulatory bar association, it is likely that state bar associations, like the Virginia State Bar, will review this opinion with interest.

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

Client Email

Most of our communications are not private, even though we think they are. Work emails are not secure. Regardless of whether lawyers are required or suggested to warn clients, it is not a good idea to use your work email account to email your attorney.

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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When is a “Contract” not a Contract?

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 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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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 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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Part 1 on Virginia’s Unauthorized Practice of Law Rules and HOAs – Where do we find guidance?

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 pm | In Business Law, Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Mention the unauthorized practice of law when discussing homeowner and condominium associations and typically the room gets very quiet. Associations, board members and managers strive to keep their budgets low, but compliance with new laws and regulations, keeping up with the collection of assessments, and the upswing in litigation involving homeowner and condominium associations makes it very difficult. When matters become a “legal issue,” board members and managers are best advised to seek legal counsel to ensure that the association is being adequately protected and represented, and that the board members and the managers are not engaging in activities that the Commonwealth might find to be the unauthorized practice of law.

We previously blogged on questions of the unauthorized practice of law when an unlicensed attorney serves on the association’s Board of Directors. In our next two blogs, we will review other issues involving questions of the unauthorized practice of law. In this blog, we discuss where we look for guidance, and in a subsequent blog, we will review Virginia decisions and opinions on the unauthorized practice of law.

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What happens when your business partner wants to leave? Do’s and Don’ts

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 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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Another Thanks to Construction Law Musings – HOAs and Construction Defects

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 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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What Should You Expect From Your Attorney?

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, HOA, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

I read a recent article in the ABA Journal that differentiated between the teaching of “issue spotting” versus “problem solving” in law schools. This article strikes at the core of the services we provide as attorneys. We believe firmly that although it is our responsibility to help identify potential issues that you may face, our legal advice is fully realized when we help you solve your problems.

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One important tip for your construction project – Change Orders

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 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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