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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.

Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

April 23, 2020 on 2:18 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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Small Business Break-Ups – The High Cost of Litigating a Forced Separation

April 23, 2020 on 2:18 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

A recent Virginia Supreme Court Case, Cattano v. Bragg, illustrates two points we have made time and time again: 1) Make sure your small business is prepared for an eventual “divorce” between the shareholders; and 2) Litigation is very, very expensive.

In this blog post we will review the Supreme Court’s decision and provide some tips for your small business so that you can avoid the calamity that occurred in this case, which included an attorneys’ fee award of over $260,000 for the prevailing party.

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Watch out for email scams!

April 23, 2020 on 2:18 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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Can HOAs Prohibit Owners From Flying the American Flag?

April 23, 2020 on 2:18 pm | In General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Flying the flag is an important way that Americans celebrate their liberty and the sacrifices of past and present heroes who defend it. There were news stories about a dispute between an Ohio homeowners’ association and a Vietnam veteran over a flagpole that brought an important issue to the forefront.

In Ohio, a homeowner erected a large flagpole on his property to fly the flag. The homeowners’ association told him that the flagpole (not the flag) violated the declaration of covenants for the neighborhood, and asked him to take the flagpole down. It offered to place flagpoles in common areas in the neighborhood, and suggested that the covenants would allow him to fly a flag on a pole attached to his house. He refused. After a firestorm of publicity, the HOA averted litigation by permitting the homeowner to keep his flagpole. The underlying question remains: can a homeowners’ association really prohibit an owner from flying the American Flag?

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3 tips for safe emailing with your attorney

April 23, 2020 on 2:18 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Obviously the use of email has changed many aspects of our world, including the practice of law. As with all new technology, we sometimes learn hard lessons. The attorney-client privilege is the foundation of effective communication between counsel and clients. Only a client can waive that privilege. Although email has far more positives than negatives, to protect attorney-client communications, use these three tips.

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

Attorney-Client Privilege

 

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Pesticides, Fungicides, and Herbicides: Why do Virginia HOAs need to know the difference?

April 23, 2020 on 2:18 pm | In HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

There are many issues that confront your common interest community as its board of directors and management company work hard to maintain the HOA. One issue that has recently come up is the need to be knowledgeable about the chemicals an HOA applies to its common areas.

The Property Owners’ Association Act in Virginia Code § 55-510.3 and the Condominium Act in Virginia Code § 55-79.80:01 both require that an association post notice of all applications of pesticide in or upon the common areas/elements. This notice must be provided by conspicuous signs placed in or upon the area where the pesticide will be applied, at least 48 hours prior to application. This blog post analyzes one particular question that an association should consider when applying chemicals to its common areas: What is a pesticide?

HOAs and pesticides

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Arbitration instead of Court? Be careful what you ask for

April 23, 2020 on 2:17 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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HOA Case Study: A Board’s statements or conduct may establish the enforceability of its governing documents

April 23, 2020 on 2:17 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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Simple Tips for Effective HOA Due Process Hearings

April 23, 2020 on 2:17 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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Mediation and Arbitration – There is a big difference

April 23, 2020 on 2:17 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

In conversations with clients, it seems that people misuse the terms “mediation” and “arbitration” more than most other legal terms. Although I do not have any empirical data, my educated guess is that many businesses and construction contractors (who did not depend upon advice given by an experienced business attorney) insert “arbitration” clauses into their contracts thinking that they mean “mediation.” Some transactions involving the sale of real estate include an arbitration clause. Countless times, clients involved in a potential lawsuit point to the “arbitration” clause, and are disheartened when I explain to them the arbitration process. Many thought they were avoiding the potential high costs of litigation. These terms are NOT interchangeable and in this blog post I will explain the basic differences between them.

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