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

October 30, 2014 on 1:05 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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4 things your HOA needs to know about Virginia’s complaint process

October 30, 2014 on 1:05 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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“Thank you” to Construction Law Musings – HOAs and the Association Lien

October 30, 2014 on 1:05 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | 1 Comment

For the second time, my friend and colleague, Richmond Construction Law attorney Chris Hill, permitted me the opportunity to blog at his award-winning blog Construction Law Musings on the topic of liens for assessments filed by community associations. You can get a lot of great information on construction law, including the intricacies of mechanic’s liens, from Chris and his blog. You can also follow him on Twitter, @ConstructionLaw.

 

Here’s a brief excerpt of the post:

In this blog, I will discuss another lien that can be filed on real property in Virginia, a lien that I will refer to in this blog as the “Association Lien.” Virginia has two separate code sections that permit community associations to file liens for unpaid assessments. For condominium associations, Va. Code § 55-79.84 sets forth the procedures for filing a lien. For developments governed by the Property Owners Association Act (“POAA”), Va. Code § 55-516 provides the statutory requirements.

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to contribute to Chris’ blog, which, for me, is the “gold standard” for a proper lawyer’s blog. For the full post on filing a community association lien, please check out Chris’ Guest Post Fridays.

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Rental Restrictions in HOAs permitted according to the Virginia Attorney General

October 30, 2014 on 1:05 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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What does it mean to be on the Board of Directors of your HOA? Fiduciary Duties (Part 1 of a series)

October 30, 2014 on 1:05 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, HOA, Merger & Acquisition, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Board members are told that they have fiduciary duties to the community association, but what does that really mean?  Fiduciary duties arise because the members of the association entrust a board member to act in the best interest of the association when handling the association’s business.

There are three components that are important to understand fiduciary duty.  First, the Virginia Code, at § 13.1-870, imposes on directors a requirement that a director exercise her duties in good faith and in the best interest of the association.  This requirement is the so-called “business judgment” rule. Second, Virginia case law imposes duty of care that requires a board member to act as a reasonable person would under similar circumstances.  Third, Virginia case law imposes a duty of loyalty that requires a board member to put the association before any personal interest.  These last two duties are referred to as “common law” duties. Continue reading “What does it mean to be on the Board of Directors of your HOA? Fiduciary Duties (Part 1 of a series)”

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Benefits of Community Associations Part 1: Are HOAs really as bad as some portray?

October 30, 2014 on 1:05 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

 

Community Associations have been the subject of a lot of bad press lately. An Associated Press article is typical of news reports that lambast associations. The article tells about a 55-and-older condo complex in Florida. According to the article, units in the Inlet House condo complex used to be worth $79,000, but sold for as little as $3,000 after rats started chewing through toilet seats and sewage started leaking from the ceiling. The article goes on to vilify the condo association for levying a $6,000 special assessment on residents and then foreclosing on owners who don’t pay their dues.

In its eagerness to blame the condo association for the woes of these senior citizens, the article and many blogs pointing out the “abuses of HOAs” miss an important point: the association may be the only group really looking out for the interests of the owners. Let’s look at what the article does not allege: it does not allege that the Association was responsible for the rat infestation or the sewage leak and it does not allege that the Association could have prevented the housing meltdown that contributed to the decline in property values.

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HOAs and a Reserve Study…it’s the law! (Part 1 of a 3 part series on Reserves)

October 30, 2014 on 1:05 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Yes, Virginia, property owners’ associations and condominium associations are required to have a reserve study.  At least once every five years an association must obtain a study to determine the necessity and amount of reserves (i.e. financial savings) required to repair, replace and restore capital components.  Capital components are those items, regardless of whether they are part of the common area or common elements, for which a) the association has an obligation to repair, replace or restore, and for which b) the board or executive organ determines that funding is necessary.

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A New Twist on Identity Theft and Fraud: How can Realtors, Lenders, Title Companies and Law Firms Protect Your Clients and Yourselves?

October 30, 2014 on 1:05 pm | In General Interest, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

A case out of Virginia Beach underscores the deviousness of those who engage in identity theft. As reported in Virginia Lawyers Weekly, Guy Gugliotta owned two lots in Virginia Beach. A local realty company maintained contact with Gugliotta via mail in case he was interested in selling the lots. In 2012 someone purporting to be Gugliotta notified the tax assessors office to change the mailing address for tax bills. Then they notified the realty company that they had decided to sell the lots. The lots were listed for sale and in August, a purchaser made an offer.

The seller documents were handled via mail with the fraudulent seller executing documents in Florida and sending them to the closing agent. Deeds to transfer property require that the seller’s signature be notarized so surely this was the end of the road for the fraudster.

But no, not only did the thief take the identity of the owner; he also took the identity of a notary public in Florida. The notary public declared under oath that it was not his signature and that he had never notarized the documents.

Deed Continue reading “A New Twist on Identity Theft and Fraud: How can Realtors, Lenders, Title Companies and Law Firms Protect Your Clients and Yourselves?”

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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 1:05 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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A Checklist to improve the effectiveness of your HOA Board of Directors

October 30, 2014 on 1:05 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

 

For your homeowners association, here’s a simple, but effective and invaluable checklist of suggested resolutions to improve the Board of Directors in your community association.

Williamsburg Virginia Business and HOA Lawyers

Board Checklist

    1. Set-up your board of director orientation with Tarley Robinson, PLC.  This service is provided at no charge to our clients. We will send out a an email and letter to schedule an orientation shortly after your board of director elections. Email us to make sure you are on our mailing list.
    2. Review your documents with your manager and attorney, or if self-managed, with your board and attorney, to determine whether you are operating in compliance with your documents and whether your documents comply with the law.
    3. Encourage civility, applaud the good deeds of neighbors and provide solid leadership.  Remember that you are part of a community.
    4. Schedule an appointment with your insurance agent to review your current policies. Confirm that your policies comply with any insurance requirements in your documents. Find out if you should change your deductibles.  Determine if you are paying the best price.
    5. Implement your Complaint Policy and Copying Policy. You are required to have them.
    6. Conduct efficient and effective board meetings. Spend some time working on the processes and procedures for your board meetings. Seek input from your board members, manager and attorney.
    7. Follow the legislation affecting community associations. The Virginia Legislative Action Committee will be working hard to review proposed legislation and determine its impact on community associations. Updates will be posted at http://www.cai-valac.org/
    8. Review your Reserve Study. Virginia law request annual review of your Reserve Study. If you do not have a Reserve Study to review, resolve to obtain one. It is the law.
    9. Conduct a risk assessment relative to safety and the use of your Common Areas or Common Elements. Follow-up with appropriate action, be it implementing safety rules, repairing an unsafe area or item, or posting a warning sign.
    10. Attend seminars provided by CAI. The Central Virginia Chapter Community Association Day, for example, is a daylong event that includes some great educational opportunities.
Being a Board Member for your HOA or Condo Association is a big undertaking, but there are resources to help you understand your responsibilities and become a more responsive director. Resolve to take advantage of these resources and help your HOA Board become more effective.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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