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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.

Can an engineering firm limit its liability by contract?

April 23, 2020 on 2:10 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

 

Maybe not, in certain circumstances. A Fairfax County judge has determined that an engineering firm cannot limit its liability by contract in a case involving a 2008 fee contract. The typical fee agreement for an engineering firm includes some form of “limitation of liability” in which the firm seeks to limit its liability “to the amount of fees paid” to the firm, whether the claim is for breach of contract or warranty, or for negligence. In the case of Dewberry & Davis, Inc. v. C3NS, Inc., the engineering services firm, Dewberry, filed a fee claim against C3NS. C3NS filed a counterclaim for breach of contract. Dewberry had a limitation of liability clause in its fee agreement. It sought summary judgment to prevent C3NS from claiming that the limitation of liability paragraph was void. The Court sided with C3NS.

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Arbitration instead of Court? Be careful what you ask for

April 23, 2020 on 2:10 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Over the past 15 years or so, “arbitration” provisions have appeared with increasing frequency in a wide variety of contracts. For example, declarations of covenants and restrictions recorded for homeowners associations, construction contracts, employment contracts, and commercial leases all may contain arbitration clauses. Arbitration may be a good idea, but you should know what “arbitration” means before you agree to be bound by such a provision.

Many people confuse the terms “mediation” and “arbitration.” Mediation refers to a process whereby a third-party helps facilitate a negotiated settlement between two or more parties. A mediator does not make decisions, does not take evidence, and does not conduct hearings. Parties simply negotiate and the mediator helps foster those negotiations.

Conversely, arbitrations are conducted like regular trials, with a judge-like arbitrator (or arbitrators) making a final decision based upon the evidence presented, and hopefully the law of your jurisdiction. Appeals of an arbitrator’s decision are virtually nonexistent.

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Immigration and Employers – Remember your I-9 Forms

April 23, 2020 on 2:10 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition | No Comments

There are many issues for entrepreneurs starting and operating their small businesses. In that light, immigration is not just a national issue involving major companies. Small businesses must be aware of government requirements, too.

Since 1986, the Immigration and Nationality Act has required employers to to verify that its employees are able to accept employment in the United States. Consequently, the I-9 form was developed. Every employee must complete an I-9 form at the time of hire. Employers are required to ensure the form is completed within three days of hire. Furthermore, even if the company engages contractors, the company could be liable if it knows the contractor employs unauthorized workers. Obviously, criminal penalties await those who fraudulently fill out the I-9 form, but civil penalties also can be levied against companies who fail to keep proper records, even if the employee is legally authorized to work in the United States.

As always, ask your attorney to make sure that your company’s legal issues are covered so that you can focus your energy on growing your business.

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?

April 23, 2020 on 2:10 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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“Thank you” to Construction Law Musings – HOAs and the Association Lien

April 23, 2020 on 2:10 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

For the second time, my friend and colleague, Richmond Construction Law attorney Chris Hill, permitted me the opportunity to blog at his award-winning blog Construction Law Musings on the topic of liens for assessments filed by community associations. 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.

 

Here’s a brief excerpt of the post:

In this blog, I will discuss another lien that can be filed on real property in Virginia, a lien that I will refer to in this blog as the “Association Lien.” Virginia has two separate code sections that permit community associations to file liens for unpaid assessments. For condominium associations, Va. Code § 55-79.84 sets forth the procedures for filing a lien. For developments governed by the Property Owners Association Act (“POAA”), Va. Code § 55-516 provides the statutory requirements.

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to contribute to Chris’ blog, which, for me, is the “gold standard” for a proper lawyer’s blog. For the full post on filing a community association lien, please check out Chris’ Guest Post Fridays.

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My Commercial Tenant is gone . . . should I re-enter the Property?

April 23, 2020 on 2:10 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, John Tarley, Land Use Planning, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Sometimes commercial tenants, unable to stay current with their lease obligations, decide to close up shop and abandon their leased premises. In those circumstances, commercial landlords need to know their options. This blog post discusses a commercial landlord’s options when a commercial tenant abandons its lease.

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Real Estate Listing Agreements are Contracts – Do you know your rights and obligations?

April 23, 2020 on 2:10 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies | No Comments

No sooner had we posted our blog article on the enforceability of listing agreements even when they are not in writing, another recent case came to our attention. This case is from the New Kent County Circuit Court. This case is another example of the increasing acrimony between sellers and brokers in a tight real estate market.

House For Sale

Listing Agreements

 

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HOA Case Study: A Board’s statements or conduct may establish the enforceability of its governing documents

April 23, 2020 on 2:10 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

An article in the Washington Post discussed a pending case in the Virginia Supreme Court regarding a dispute between property owners and a community association regarding the owners’ operation of a vineyard and retail store on their property. In an unpublished Order, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld a Fauquier County jury verdict for the property owners that had been set aside by the trial court.

Although unpublished orders do not have “precedential value or . . . significance for the law or legal system,” this case does provide us with a look at how difficult it can be for community associations to interpret their governing documents and also how a board’s previous actions may have an effect upon future enforcement of the community’s declarations and covenants. This blog post will review the facts of that case and its applicability to your HOA.

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

April 23, 2020 on 2:10 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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Can I cut down my neighbor’s tree when its branches overhang my property?

April 23, 2020 on 2:10 pm | In Common Interest Community, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | 4 Comments

In our ever crowding residential areas, more of us experience the situation in which the limbs of a neighbor’s tree overhang our property line. Most of the time, these limbs do not pose us any concern, but questions do arise as to whether we have the right to prune our neighbor’s trees. In the past,the Virginia rule has been that you could trim the branches of your neighbor’s tree up to your property line. However, the Virginia Supreme Court expanded that long-standing rule when it decided that an owner whose property was damaged by the root system of a neighbor’s tree may be entitled to more relief than simply cutting back the roots and overhanging branches to the property line.

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