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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.

It’s time for your Small Business to audit its Corporate Documents

April 23, 2020 on 2:12 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley | No Comments

Many of our New Year’s Resolutions address our personal health, but owners of small businesses should also resolve to address your corporate health. Small businesses operate with great attention to the product or service the company provides, but little energy is left to review the infrastructure of the company. Issues such as shareholder agreements, key person insurance, disability insurance, annual meetings and other corporate necessities are given short shrift because of the attention we pay to running the business.

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

Business Agreements

This blog post provides a few suggestions to help you overcome a problem unique to small businesses: spending too much time working in your business rather than working on your business.  Continue reading “It’s time for your Small Business to audit its Corporate Documents”

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Fictitious Name filings: Make sure you file properly for your business

April 23, 2020 on 2:12 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition | No Comments

Many businesses operate under a fictitious name, otherwise referred to as “doing business as” or “d/b/a.” There are many reasons for this use, but primarily, a company can use a catchy business name, like when a franchise opens a “T.G.I.F.” or “McDonalds,” but the company’s actual corporate name is not as exciting.

According to the Virginia Supreme Court, Virginia requires a company operating under a different name to file that name with the court and the State Corporation Commission “to prevent fraud and to compel an individual or a corporation to disclose the name of the real owner of the business, in order that the person or corporation may sue in or be sued by the proper name.”

Virginia statutes set forth the process for registering your fictitious name. For restaurants or other single location businesses, the process is pretty simple. First, you file a fictitious name certificate with the court clerk in the jurisdiction where your business is located. After the certificate is recorded, you file the certified copy with the State Corporation Commission.

Problems can arise for construction companies and other types of businesses who transact business in several localities. For those companies, you must file a fictitious name certificate in each county or city where you conduct business. We have had several matters in which these types of businesses failed to properly register their fictitious names in all the jurisdictions where they conduct business. For one thing, those entities cannot bring a lawsuit to collect monies due until they rectify that problem.

“Doing business as” is just another issue to consider when you set up your company. Make sure you fully advise your lawyer so all of your filings can be completed early, and correctly.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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Watch out for email scams!

April 23, 2020 on 2:12 pm | In General Interest, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Email and telephone frauds are proliferating through the attorney community, and have been redirected at other professionals. On the message board for the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, one of my attorney colleagues provided a story from one of his clients: “a consulting engineer who frequently testifies in litigation, was retained by a bonding company in Colorado regarding a dispute with a construction company in Pittsburgh. Luckily he smelled a rat when they announced that a disbursement would be run through his company account.”

 

Email

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

April 23, 2020 on 2:12 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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Attorneys’ Fees and Litigation – When fees get awarded to the “Prevailing Party”

April 23, 2020 on 2:12 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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Virginia Supreme Court upholds arbitration award granted to homeowners who sued their HOA

April 23, 2020 on 2:12 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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What can an HOA do to collect past dues when a bankrupt homeowner surrenders property but the lender does not foreclose?

April 23, 2020 on 2:12 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on What can an HOA do to collect past dues when a bankrupt homeowner surrenders property but the lender does not foreclose?

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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Getting rid of an LLC member in your business can be difficult without an effective operating agreement

April 23, 2020 on 2:12 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

It may seem hard to believe, but there’s a chance you and your fellow members in your limited liability company may not always get along. In fact, the relationship may get to the point where the majority of the members in the LLC wants to expel a member. As Lee Corso says frequently on ESPN Gameday, “Not so fast, my friend.”

 

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Email scams (continued)

April 23, 2020 on 2:12 pm | In General Interest, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We have previously written a blog piece warning of increased email scam activity and sophistication. Expect more. Another victim of these email scams has come to light, and this victim was a lawyer. An article in Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly told the story of a lawyer victim of a successful email scam. This blog post provides another warning against these scams.

Email

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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

April 23, 2020 on 2:11 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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