Virginia Statute – HOAs must adopt “Cost Schedule” to recover copy costs

October 30, 2014 on 1:20 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

The Virginia Code has provisions that provide members of condominium associations and homeowner associations with the ability to request copies of books and records. The statutes have also permitted  associations to recover the costs of copying the requested books and records.

This blog post highlights a new statutory provision affecting common interest communities. On July 1, 2012, HOAs and condo associations will only be able to recover these copying costs if the association has adopted a cost schedule.

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:20 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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Can HOAs Prohibit Owners From Flying the American Flag?

October 30, 2014 on 1:20 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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Unauthorized Practice of Law: When unlicensed attorneys serve as HOA board members

October 30, 2014 on 1:20 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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Benefits of Community Associations Part 1: Are HOAs really as bad as some portray?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 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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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 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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Attorney-Client Privilege: What is it and how do you protect it?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 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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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 1:19 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.

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2014 Legislative Update for Virginia HOAs

June 16, 2014 on 6:28 am | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association, Weekly Tweets | No Comments

The 2014 session on the  Virginia Legislative Action Committee (“LAC”) created new experiences for our committee. Each year on the LAC brings new challenges, and in my second year as Chair of the LAC, we experienced our most active General Assembly session.

The LAC’s mission is to monitor and advocate for legislation affecting HOAs and condominium associations. All of the bills cited below are effective July 1, 2014 unless otherwise noted.

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CAI Law Seminar 2014 for HOA Lawyers

March 18, 2014 on 8:44 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association, Weekly Tweets | No Comments

Hard to believe that the CAI Law Seminar in Las Vegas was 7 weeks ago.  I have been meaning to report on the seminar but the practice has kept me very busy.

CAI Lawyer

The Law Seminar provides a unique learning opportunity to discuss emerging trends, practices and legislative issues important to the practice of community association law. Attendees include attorneys, management professionals, and other industry leaders.

The Law Seminar was excellent this year! I attended education sessions each day that were well-presented, topical, and detailed.  My colleagues in the HOA and condominium industry have a lot of experience to share.

I attended a session that reviewed a case study on Repair Projects, Special Assessments, Association Divisiveness and Litigation.  This session provided a lot of good information.  Two of the attorneys involved in advising the association, and in defending the subsequent litigation, provided an in-depth analysis of a community that needed to move forward on repair projects but did not have sufficient funds in its reserve account.  (Sound familiar?).  The program identified the issues faced by the community, the challenges of getting consensus from the owners on the needed repairs, and the solution that the board pursued.   There are many communities in Virginia that have aging infrastructures and will soon, if not already, be facing the challenges of making repairs and having the money to do so.  The presented case study provided a road map for a major repair project.

I also had the opportunity to serve on a “Panel of Pundits.” Along with colleagues from Colorado, Massachusetts, Hawaii and New Jersey, we fielded questions from the audience concerning community association issues.

Attorneys that make the effort to attend and participate in events like these help us all to stay current on issues that affect HOAs. That enables us to provide better service and advice to our clients. Because the law changes quickly, make sure your HOA law firm stays current.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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