Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:06 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 1:06 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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Update for Limited Liability Companies: What happens to Membership Interest when a Member Dies?

October 30, 2014 on 1:06 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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Citizen’s Arrest – From Mayberry to Suffolk

October 30, 2014 on 1:06 pm | In General Interest, John Tarley | No Comments

I read a story in the Virginia-Pilot in which it described an incident of Citizen’s Arrest. In the story, a fire inspector, using a flashing blue light on his car, stopped a female driver. He claimed the driver had been swerving, and he stopped her because of his concern she may have been drinking.

A Suffolk, Virginia detective witnessed the incident. After consultation with fellow police officers, the police department urged the Commonwealth’s Attorney to press charges against the fire inspector for impersonating an officer.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney declined. He cited a Virginia case, Hudson v. Commonwealth, for the legal principle that private citizens have a common law right to make a “Citizen’s Arrest.”

I will not go into all of the other complicating legal issues relating to a Citizen’s Arrest, like what obligations does a person have to obey the citizen making the arrest, what force can the citizen use to make the arrest, etc. No, my purpose is more of humorous nature, because the incident reminded me of my childhood, watching Mayberry RFD. In this particular episode, Gomer Pyle shows the proper way to make a Citizen’s Arrest of Deputy Barney Fife:


Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

John Tarley

John Tarley

 

 

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Neighbor Law: Tips for Avoiding Boundary Line Disputes

October 30, 2014 on 1:06 pm | In Construction litigation, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Few real estate topics cause more disputes between owners than those involving activities at a common boundary. We have reviewed boundary line disputes involving trees that straddle property lines and fences that encroach upon boundary lines.

A recent Portsmouth case highlights another issue relating to boundary lines.

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What Should You Expect From Your Attorney?

October 30, 2014 on 1:06 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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ADA, FHA, and HOAs And Service Animals: Florida Association Sued for housing discrimination

October 30, 2014 on 1:06 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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Enforcing HOA covenants important for common interest communities

October 30, 2014 on 1:06 pm | In General Interest, HOA, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | 2 Comments

 

We have written previously on the litigation of homeowner association cases. Generally, homeowner associations can file a lawsuit in the General District courts to enforce collection of assessments. However, If an HOA needs to enforce a covenant, seeking an injunction to require a homeowner to comply with the restrictive covenant, as of 2011, the HOA must file a lawsuit in the Circuit Court can now file a lawsuit in the General District Court, as well. Virginia Code sections 55-79.80:2, and 55-513 give jurisdiction for those matters to the General District Court. Those lawsuits can be expensive and time-consuming.

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:06 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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The Same Employer But a Different Result in this Virginia Supreme Court Case Regarding the Enforceability of Noncompete Agreements

October 30, 2014 on 1:06 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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