How important are state statutes and case decisions in governing your HOA?

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

We discussed Governing Documents for homeowners associations and Governing Documents for condominium associations. These governing documents for your community association must be read in conjunction with certain state and federal laws. In this article, we will discuss those relevant laws that must be considered by your HOA.

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Benefits of HOAs Part 3: The Importance of Assessments to your Community

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

To many homeowners, the assessments they pay to their homeowners or condominium association are just one more bill each month. Too often, owners don’t realize the benefits they get in exchange for these assessments. Some owners even go so far as to stop paying their assessments. A careful review of your association’s budget would show that the benefits for owners that come from their assessment payments far surpass the cost of the assessment. But when an owner chooses not to pay, everyone in the community bears the consequences.

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Smokin’ in the Condo

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Imagine if someone told Don Draper and Roger Sterling of Mad Men that they could no longer smoke in their apartments. They would look at you curiously, smirk and light up a cigarette. But Mad Men, the television show about a Madison Avenue advertising agency is set in 1965 and as the ad for Virginia Slims said, “[we’ve] come a long way, baby.” Almost half of all adults smoked in 1965 but that percentage has dropped to 18% by 2012.

The negative health effects have been documented and the reported adverse health effects caused by second-hand smoke has resulted in smoking bans in restaurants. One of the next areas in which smoking bans have been put in place is in condominium communities. Some of the smoking bans address common elements only but others have imposed a ban on smoking in the condominium unit.

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7 reasons to consider amending your HOA’s governing documents

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

In other posts we have discussed a homeowner association’s governing documents. Many communities were established 20-40 years ago with governing documents that worked well for the developer, and for the most part the community association. However, many of these governing documents are outdated.  Virginia and federal laws pertaining to community associations have changed substantially.  If your board of directors has not engaged in an audit of your communities governing documents in the past 5-7 years, it should.

What is an “audit” of our governing documents?

An “audit” of your documents is an in-depth review by your HOA’s board of directors in conjunction with your association attorney.  The Board reviews each document noting any sections that lack clarity, are no longer enforced, appear to not apply to your community, protect a long-gone developer, or do not provide the association with adequate remedies.  The Board prepares a list of concerns or issues facing the community, such as homes that are not being maintained, large amounts of delinquent assessments, or enforcement capabilities of the association.  The Board provides this information to the association attorney.

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Can HOAs Prohibit Owners From Flying the American Flag?

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 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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HOAs – What are your Governing Documents?

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Common Interest Community, Contributors, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments


It’s the beginning of a new year so let’s start with some basic nuts and bolts information regarding homeowners associations. We’ll begin this series of blog articles with a discussion of the phrase “Governing Documents” which is used by board members, managers and homeowners.

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 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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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 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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Arbitration in debt collection: FTC says it’s a broken system

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 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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Rental Restrictions in HOAs permitted according to the Virginia Attorney General

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

In many HOAs, an issue arises when a homeowner purchases real estate as an investment property intending to lease the home or condo unit. In those situations, the homeowner becomes a “landlord” rather than a resident owner and the situation causes concerns for many homeowner and condominium owner associations. Many association documents contain restrictions on leasing property. In response to an inquiry, the Attorney General for Virginia has issued an official advisory opinion concerning the imposition of rental restrictions in common interest communities concluding that if the restriction is adopted correctly and for a legitimate purpose, the rental restriction is valid.

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