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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 I cut down my neighbor’s tree when its branches overhang my property?

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 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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Can an engineering firm limit its liability by contract?

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 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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Using your business’ computer to email your attorney may be a bad idea

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

Email

Well, we have written about protecting the attorney-client privilege and about safe emailing tips when emailing your attorney. Although we thought we had it pretty well covered, a recent decision from a California appellate has given us something more to think about.
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HOAs and Management Companies – Does your contract say what you think it says?

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 pm | In General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Many boards of directors for community associations engage management companies to help the board operate their community. These relationships arise from written contracts negotiated by the parties. It is essential that homeowners’ associations and management companies have their contracts reviewed by their experienced HOA attorney.

When determining the terms of a contract, Virginia courts employ what is known as the “plain meaning” doctrine. This doctrine basically means that when an agreement is clear, a court will look to the ordinary meaning of the words of the contract itself. Consequently, the parties need to ensure that all of the terms they believe are part of an agreement are in the written contract itself.

A recent Virginia Supreme Court case presents a prime example of why it is important to have your association attorney review contracts between community associations and management companies. Continue reading “HOAs and Management Companies – Does your contract say what you think it says?”

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HOAs and Mediation: Not always a viable alternative to Litigation

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | 2 Comments

We have written extensively on the virtues of alternative dispute resolution, specifically mediation, to resolve disputes. Litigation is a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, and in the end, both sides are generally unhappy with the result because of the costs and time incurred.

But although we encourage mediation generally, mediation in HOA litigation is a much more complex and difficult undertaking. In this blog post, we will discuss difficulties with mediating HOA disputes.

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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 2:13 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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Stop in the name of the…homeowner association! – Can private HOA security forces pull you over?

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Virginia’s Attorney General, Mark R. Herring, published an advisory opinion concerning private security forces used by community associations (the “Opinion”). These security forces often act as quasi-police departments and help relieve localities by providing routine patrols in private communities. In the Williamsburg area, the local police often defer to HOA security forces for regular patrols, and health and safety checks. When it comes to more serious police action, like issuing traffic tickets and arresting homeowners, the roles and authority of HOA security forces becomes less clear. This blog post discusses the role of private security forces in homeowners’ associations and the Opinion that addresses some of these concerns.

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Simple Tips for Effective HOA Due Process Hearings

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

This blog post focuses on addressing one major source of discontent in community associations: due process hearings for alleged violations of the community’s governing documents or condominium instruments.

HOA Due Process Hearing

Homeowners want fairness

Complaints about HOA due process hearings can be split into at least three different categories:

  • Before the hearing, the Board
    • did not attempt to settle reasonably;
    • did not explain variance procedure; or
    • did not properly send notice of violation or opportunity to cure.
  • During the hearing,
    • The Board was disorganized;
    • A Board member was rude;
    • The Board was not prepared for the hearing;
    • The Board did not give owner time to gather/present case; or
    • The Board did not view property/alleged violation.
  • After the hearing,
    • The Board did not give valid reasons for decision; or
    • The penalty was unreasonable.

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The Same Employer But a Different Result in this Virginia Supreme Court Case Regarding the Enforceability of Noncompete Agreements

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 pm | In Business Planning, Employment law, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Over the course of the past 20 years, the Virginia Supreme Court has tweaked the law governing non-compete agreements. In its latest case, the Court came full circle by invalidating a noncompete agreement that used the same language the Court had upheld 20 years earlier in a case involving the same company.

As we have written before, trial courts will enforce noncompete agreements when the agreements (1) are narrowly drawn to protect the employer’s legitimate business interest, (2) are not unduly burdensome on the employee’s ability to earn a living, and (3) are not against public policy. Importantly, the employer has the burden to prove each of these elements. When evaluating whether the employer has met that burden, trials courts should consider the “function, geographic scope, and duration” elements of the noncompete restrictions.  These elements are “considered together” rather than “as three separate and distinct issues.”

Further, if the noncompete agreement is too broad or otherwise unenforceable, a Virginia court will not rewrite, or “blue pencil” the agreement to make it enforceable. Therefore, it is important that you work with your business attorney to draft an enforceable non-compete agreement.

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You obtained a PPP Loan? Here are some answers to questions you may have on spending the funds

April 23, 2020 on 2:13 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, John Tarley | Comments Off on You obtained a PPP Loan? Here are some answers to questions you may have on spending the funds

With the COVid-19 Pandemic, amongst the financial packages available to small businesses is the Payroll Protection Program (“PPP”). Small businesses must make themselves aware of the benefits of these loans. This blog post assumes you were able to obtain a PPP loan, and provides you with basic information you need to know, if you want your PPP loan to be forgiven (essentially converting the loan to a grant).

Please note that what follows is NOT legal or tax advice. These are simply my observations and notes based upon information I have gathered through an analysis of the CARES Act, an analysis of proposed regulations governing the PPP, and my attendance at numerous webinars given by tax and banking experts explaining the PPP.

YOU SHOULD CONTACT YOUR TAX ADVISOR AND BANK FOR PERSONALIZED INFORMATION FOR YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES. The purpose of this blog post is to provide you basic information that you can use to educate yourself about the PPP loans, so you can use that knowledge to ask more informed questions of your financial professionals.

First, if you were funded with a PPP loan, the period of time for calculating possible forgiveness of the loan is 8 weeks from the time you were funded. Therefore, if you were funded on April 20, 2020, your allowable expenses can only be calculated for the 8 weeks after that date.

Second, as the name suggests, the PPP is primarily to be used for payroll. At this point, it appears as though your business must spend at least 75% of the PPP funds on payroll in order to qualify as fully forgiven. Be advised that no employee (or owner) can be paid from the PPP loans at an amount greater than $100,000 per year, pro-rated over the 8-week period.

What constitutes “payroll?” Here are the current general guidelines, but there are more specifics that go beyond the scope of this blog post, so your particular situation may vary:

  • Draws or distributions to owners;
  • Payroll to full-time equivalent employees (payments made to independent contractors reported on a 1099 are not considered “payroll” because ICs are not “employees” and will not be calculated in your payroll). Also, the payment of state and local income tax on employee compensation counts in the “payroll” category;
  • Payment for group health-care benefits, including insurance premiums; and
  • Employee retirement benefits.

Third, besides payroll, you can use the PPP loan to pay your business’ lease or mortgage payments. Again, the 8 week period applies, and prepayment of future rent or mortgage probably will be disallowed in calculating the “forgiven” portion of your PPP loan expenditures.

Fourth, you can use the PPP loan proceeds to pay your business’ utilities expenses, as well as interest on any other debt obligations that were incurred before you obtained the PPP loan.

As you can see, the PPP loan can work for sole-proprietors, as well as small businesses with multiple shareholders/members. You are an employee of your small business, along with any other employees you may have.

Finally, so long as you follow the guidelines, your PPP loan will be forgiven if the proceeds are used for the program’s intended purposes (see above) over a period of time no more than 8 weeks from when your loan was funded. The bank where you obtained your PPP loan will make the determination of forgiveness, based upon your documentation and your expenditures. For any amount of the loan used that does not meet the PPP loan criteria, that amount will NOT be forgiven.

As a reminder, nothing in this blog post should be considered legal advice or tax advice, but instead is a very basic overview of how to spend your PPP loan proceeds. Contact your tax or financial advisers for your particular situation. But in any case, document every PPP expenditure you make to support your case to have the entire PPP loan forgiven.

At the end of the day, we know many of our small businesses cannot afford to seek out legal advice at this time, but it is vitally important that if we are to survive the financial crisis arising out of this novel Coronavirus pandemic, and we have to be willing to help each other out. As information is made available, we will keep you updated as best we can. Stay safe!

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