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

October 30, 2014 on 1:10 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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Part 1 on Virginia’s Unauthorized Practice of Law Rules and HOAs – Where do we find guidance?

October 30, 2014 on 1:10 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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ADA, FHA, and HOAs And Service Animals: Florida Association Sued for housing discrimination

October 30, 2014 on 1:10 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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Using your business’ computer to email your attorney may be a bad idea

October 30, 2014 on 1:09 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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HOA Litigation: Is it avoidable?

October 30, 2014 on 1:09 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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Virginia Attorney General opinion on HOAs

October 30, 2014 on 1:09 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

In Virginia homeowner associations, the governing documents permit a developer to continue control of the HOA’s Board of Directors for a specific period of time, or until a specific number of lots are sold. The length of that period depends upon the governing documents of each association.

HOA

This issue has generated litigation in Williamsburg, and now, thanks to Peter Vieth from Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly, we have learned of a formal opinion from the Virginia Attorney General. In an opinion dated January 11, 2013, the AG answered two questions posed by Virginia Senator Bryce E. Reeves. This blog post takes a look at that opinion.

Is the Property Owners Association Act Unconstitutional?

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:09 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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Benefits of HOAs Part 2: How is Covenant Enforcement Good for Owners?

October 30, 2014 on 1:09 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

The enforcement of covenants, conditions, and restrictions (“CC&R’s”) is among the most criticized of the duties performed by the Board of Directors of community associations, but is also the most important responsibility. CC&R’s govern many activities in a community including house designs, parking regulations, maintenance and repair of the common areas, and collection of assessments. Sensational “Gotcha” type news stories highlight enforcement practices of some associations, which contribute to a false perception that associations in general lack common sense. However, studies repeatedly show that the overwhelming majority of people  living in neighborhoods governed by HOAs believe that the rules in their communities benefit them.

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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 1:09 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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What can an HOA do to collect past dues when a bankrupt homeowner surrenders property but the lender does not foreclose?

October 30, 2014 on 1:09 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

An all-too-common scenario occurs when a homeowners association attempts to collect past dues and the homeowner files bankruptcy. The law is clear that the bankrupt homeowner is still liable for those post-petition dues. The United States Bankruptcy Code at Section 523(a)(16) makes the homeowner liable for “a fee or assessment that becomes due and payable after the order for relief to a [homeowners association] for as long as the debtor . . .  has a legal, equitable, or possessory ownership interest in such unit.”

In other instances the homeowner decides to walk away from the property and surrenders the property to the lender. Instead of foreclosing, however, the lender simply does nothing. Therefore, the title of the property is still in the name of the bankrupt homeowner who walked away from the property, and they are not paying the assessments. The lender has not foreclosed so they are not paying the assessments. How can the homeowners association collect these past due post-petition assessments?

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