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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.

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

April 23, 2020 on 2:00 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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Community Association COVID-19 Update – Change in Board meeting requirements during State of Emergency and Guidance on Closing Association facilities

April 23, 2020 on 2:00 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on Community Association COVID-19 Update – Change in Board meeting requirements during State of Emergency and Guidance on Closing Association facilities

We have pointed out the fluidity of this pandemic, and now we have some updates for you on holding meetings and closing facilities (including pools). We have received relief on some of the requirements found in the POAA and the Condominium Act on holding remote meetings.  We have also obtained information on the closing of community association pools.

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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

April 23, 2020 on 12:48 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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HOAs, ADA, and FHA: regulating “Service or Assistance Animals”

April 23, 2020 on 12:48 pm | In General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Recent amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) regulations limit the definition of “service animal” to any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The amendments specify that providing “emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks” under the new definition.

On the other hand, if your situation is not an ADA issue but rather a Fair Housing issue, a recent memo clarifies that the new definition is not applicable to the Fair Housing Act (the “FHA”). The FHA does not contain a specific definition of “service animal.” Under the FHA, animals that provide emotional support have, in certain instances, been recognized as necessary assistance animals as a reasonable accommodation. The FHA permits individuals with disabilities to keep an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation when there are limitations imposed by the homeowner or condominium association on animals and pets.


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Make sure HOA Document Amendments are properly certified

April 23, 2020 on 12:48 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on Make sure HOA Document Amendments are properly certified

The Virginia Supreme Court’s opinion in Tvardek, et al v. Powhatan Village Homeowners Association, Inc. highlights how critical it is to not only amend your HOA documents in compliance with the law and your existing documents, but to make sure that the amended document that gets recorded properly memorializes that you did so.

The Tvardeks filed a declaratory judgment action in 2013 against Powhatan Village Homeowners Association, Inc. (“Powhatan Village”) to challenge a 2008 amendment to the association covenants that included a provision restricting the owners’ ability to rent their homes. Powhatan Village filed a special plea in bar requesting dismissal of the action as untimely citing the one-year statute of limitations in Va. Code Ann. § 55-515.1(E). Declining to hear any evidence, the Circuit Court made a decision on the pleadings and argument of counsel, ruling in favor of Powhatan Village’s argument that the claim was time-barred. The Circuit Court also awarded Powhatan Village $12,000 in attorney fees.

The Tvardeks appealed the case. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed the Circuit Court’s ruling, determining that the case was not barred by the one-year statute of limitations. The attorney fee award was also reversed.

Williamsburg Courthouse

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Requests to Inspect and Copy Community Association or Company Records: Should it be this complicated?

April 23, 2020 on 12:48 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

A Virginia Beach jury found a condominium association liable for failing to permit unit owners an opportunity to inspect and copy association records. Not only must the condo board allow inspection and copying, they must pay for an audit of the association records and pay $50,000 for the unit owners’ attorneys’ fees.

These questions arise frequently. This blog post reviews the various Virginia statutes that address the right to inspect and copy records for companies, HOAs and condominium associations.

HOA Filing Information

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HOAs and Mediation: Not always a viable alternative to Litigation

April 23, 2020 on 12:48 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | 3 Comments

We have written extensively on the virtues of alternative dispute resolution, specifically mediation, to resolve disputes. Litigation is a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, and in the end, both sides are generally unhappy with the result because of the costs and time incurred.

But although we encourage mediation generally, mediation in HOA litigation is a much more complex and difficult undertaking. In this blog post, we will discuss difficulties with mediating HOA disputes.

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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 12:47 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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Community Association Communications and Keeping our Communities Connected during COVID-19

April 23, 2020 on 12:47 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on Community Association Communications and Keeping our Communities Connected during COVID-19

Our pandemic situation continues to be fluid. It is difficult to get a handle on stay-at-home orders, best practices for health and safety, and where all of this is headed. We have many who are out of work. We have health workers who are exhausted and taxed beyond limits. We have shortages of protective equipment, and some grocery items. All of this stays with us all day even if we are fortunate enough to be able to work, and to continue to have work to do. It is more important than ever for our community leaders to have consistent and frequent communications with their residents, and for our managers and attorneys to continue to provide guidance to our communities. It is also critical that community leaders, managers and attorneys take time for their own mental health.

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

April 22, 2020 on 6:34 pm | In Common Interest Community, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Weekly Tweets | Comments Off on Arbitration in debt collection: FTC says it’s a broken system

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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