Does Virginia law require an HOA to transition automatically to homeowner control of the Board of Directors?

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Over the course of the past few years, homeowners in the Williamsburg development of Kingsmill on the James have become more vocal over the continued control by the community’s developer, Busch Properties, Inc. In May 2010, Kingsmill resident and a William & Mary Law School professor filed a lawsuit against Busch Properties. On August 20, 2010, the Williamsburg/James City Circuit Court heard the demurrer filed by Busch Properties. The court granted the demurrer. The Plaintiff appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court. The Court declined to hear the appeal. The Plaintiff filed a petition for rehearing that the Court refused to hear by an order dated June 16, 2011.

Williamsburg Virginia HOA Lawyers

HOA Transition

 

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4 things your HOA needs to know about Virginia’s complaint process

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

In 2008, Virginia enacted legislation requiring condominium and property owners’ associations to establish reasonable procedures for resolving member and citizen complaints. The legislation further required the Common Interest Community Board (the “CICB”) to establish regulations for the associations to govern the complaint process.

 

What does this mean for your association? You will need to establish, or amend, your written procedures to comply with the regulations.

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Attorney-Client Privilege: What is it and how do you protect it?

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

The attorney-client privilege permits confidential communication between an attorney and her client.  The objective is to encourage open communication, which permits an attorney to provide thorough, competent and complete advice.  Generally speaking, only a client can waive the privilege, but as found by the Virginia Supreme Court in Walton v. Mid-Atlantic Spine Specialist, PC, et al., a client’s inadvertent disclosure of a privileged communication may operate as a waiver of the attorney-client privilege.

In this Williamsburg medical malpractice case, a defendant doctor wrote a letter to his attorney calling into question his medical diagnosis he gave to his patient. The doctor kept this letter in a separate notebook. During discovery the defendant medical practice used a third party service to copy document requests. The letter was provided inadvertently to the plaintiff.

Although the defendant claimed that he did not produce the letter or permit anyone else to produce the letter, the Court found that the defendant did not take adequate protection to protect the letter. The Court noted that the notebook in which the letter was found was not marked as confidential or privileged. Furthermore, the Court held that the client did not take prompt action following disclosure.

The Virginia Supreme Court considered five main factors in determining whether the inadvertent disclosure waived the client’s privilege.  The Court looked at:  (1) the reasonableness of the precautions to prevent inadvertent disclosures, (2) the time taken to rectify the error, (3) the scope of discovery, (4) the extent of the disclosure, and (5) whether the party asserting the claim of privilege or protection for the communication has used its unavailability for misleading or otherwise improper or overreaching purposes in the litigation making it unfair to allow the party to invoke confidentiality under the circumstances.

As a start, clients should maintain attorney-client privileged communications in a separate file or notebook and clearly mark the file or notebook and each communication as “CONFIDENTIAL-ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATION.”  Then, if an inadvertent disclosure is made, the client should contact her attorney as soon as possible to determine a plan of action to restore the attorney-client privilege.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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Arbitration in debt collection: FTC says it’s a broken system

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 pm | In Common Interest Community, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

As a follow-up to our post on the costs and benefits of the arbitration process, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) recently issued a report indicating that the litigation and arbitration practices for resolving consumer debt need major reform.

Debt collection cases are on the rise.  We have seen a tremendous increase in the number of cases we are filing on delinquent homeowner association dues. In James City County/Williamsburg, the local courts have seen a 27% increase in civil filings from 2006 to 2008.  Other courts in Virginia and other states are experiencing similar increases in civil filings.

The FTC has made specific recommendations that the Federal government and the states consider new laws to protect consumers including a recommendation that a temporary ban be placed on the use of binding arbitration until such time that the arbitration forums have initiated changes to address deficiencies in arbitration. The FTC has suggested that state legislatures adopt measures to make it more likely that consumers will defend themselves in litigation, decreasing the prevalence of default judgments; require debt collectors to include more information about the alleged debt in their complaints; take steps to make it less likely that collectors will sue on debt on which the statute of limitations has run; and change laws to prevent the freezing of a specified amount in a bank account including funds exempt from garnishment.

We do not believe that these changes, if they occur, will effect our current practice areas and clients. However, we have also seen instances in which perceived procedural unfairness can lead to overreaching legislation. For example, it is fair to say that when the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was passed, legislators did not intend for it to reach into the wide-ranging areas it now does, including the collection of homeowner dues. See, e.g., Barry v. Board of Managers of Elmwood Park Condominium II, NT Slip Op 27506, http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ny-civil-court/1211140.html (December 12, 2007, NY Civil Court City of New York, Richmond County) (Judge Philip S. Straniere writing that “Somehow I think that Adams, Jefferson and Madison must be turning over in their graves at the thought that the federal government is regulating such a local activity as the collection of condominium association dues between the homeowner and the association”).

Arbitration tends to release pressure on state courts by handling cases that otherwise would be brought in court. However, if the process continues to be perceived as unfair, restrictions on the use of arbitration could be forthcoming.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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Benefits of HOAs Part 4: What do homeowners really think about their associations?

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

We’ve mentioned already the abundance of news articles criticizing community associations. If these news stories are to be believed, then associations are unpopular indeed. But is it true that residents living in community associations are unhappy with their association? Research by the Community Associations Institute suggests that it is not. In fact, the research suggests that more people than ever are choosing to live in communities with associations, and the overwhelming majority of those people are happy with their association.

Statistics compiled by the Community Associations Institute show that the number of associations continues to grow. In 1970, just ten thousand communities, with a combined 2.1 million residents, were governed by associations. Today there are over 309,000 communities governed by associations. More than 62 million Americans live in associations. 1.75 million volunteers serve on community association boards, and a full 26 percent of the eligible U.S. population volunteers for an association at some point during a year, according to one estimate. That kind of service simply would not happen if associations were as widely disliked as has been portrayed.

Williamsburg Virginia Business and HOA Lawyers

Common Interest Communities

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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 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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Unauthorized Practice of Law: When unlicensed attorneys serve as HOA board members

October 30, 2014 on 12:33 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Merger & Acquisition, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

An article in the Virginia Gazette featured a story regarding the indictment of a local attorney for the unauthorized practice of law; a criminal charge classified as a class 1 misdemeanor. Although those allegations did not involve a homeowner association, it highlights a recurring issue for volunteer boards of directors for many organizations including homeowner associations and not-for-profit organizations on which attorneys serve. This article focuses on those issues facing boards for homeowner associations (“HOAs”) but the issues are similar for other volunteer boards of directors.

 

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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 12:33 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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What Does It Mean to be on the Board of Directors of your HOA? Potential Liability (Part 2 of a Series)

October 30, 2014 on 12:32 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

We frequently are asked whether volunteer board members can be civilly liable for actions taken while a board member. This issue is of serious concern because lawsuits tend to be over inclusive, naming every possible defendant in the initial complaint. Why sign up as a volunteer board member if it could bankrupt you?

 

 

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Get your fence off my property!

October 30, 2014 on 12:32 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Clients sometimes come to us with disputes regarding real estate litigation matters involving boundary line and easement encroachments. We provide legal advice and counsel, trying to balance your real estate rights with neighborly harmony, always looking to avoid a lawsuit when possible.

Easements provide a broad range of legal rights and obligations. In a fairly recent Virginia Supreme Court case, Snead v. C&S Properties Holding Company, a landowner blocked access to a validly recorded easement. The easement holder filed a lawsuit, asking the court to order the obstruction removed. The Virginia Supreme Court ordered the fence removed, concluding that “a significant portion of the easement would be rendered unusable for ingress and egress if injunctive relief were denied.”

Common Interest Communities

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