Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:15 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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Smokin’ in the Condo

October 30, 2014 on 1:15 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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Part 2 on Virginia’s Unauthorized Practice of Law Rules and HOAs – What is considered the unauthorized practice of law?

October 30, 2014 on 1:15 pm | In Business Law, Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

We blogged previously about finding guidance in Virginia’s rules on the unauthorized practice of law as they pertain to community associations. In this post, we will review Virginia opinions that address whether certain work performed by managers is the unauthorized practice of law (“UPL”).

Gavel

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Can HOAs Prohibit Owners From Flying the American Flag?

October 30, 2014 on 1:15 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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Immigration and Employers – Remember your I-9 Forms

October 30, 2014 on 1:15 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition | No Comments

There are many issues for entrepreneurs starting and operating their small businesses. In that light, immigration is not just a national issue involving major companies. Small businesses must be aware of government requirements, too.

Since 1986, the Immigration and Nationality Act has required employers to to verify that its employees are able to accept employment in the United States. Consequently, the I-9 form was developed. Every employee must complete an I-9 form at the time of hire. Employers are required to ensure the form is completed within three days of hire. Furthermore, even if the company engages contractors, the company could be liable if it knows the contractor employs unauthorized workers. Obviously, criminal penalties await those who fraudulently fill out the I-9 form, but civil penalties also can be levied against companies who fail to keep proper records, even if the employee is legally authorized to work in the United States.

As always, ask your attorney to make sure that your company’s legal issues are covered so that you can focus your energy on growing your business.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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Employee Non-Competes: Why Must Prospective Employers Be Wary?

October 30, 2014 on 1:15 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, General Interest, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We have written previously about employee “non-competes” (a/k/a covenants not to compete or non-competition agreements). You may have come across them in your own business, either by requiring them of your own employees or seeking to hire someone subject to a non-compete.   However, the area of law surrounding non-competition agreements can be tricky, and a new decision has added to the intrigue.

In DePuy Synthes Sales, Inc. v. Jones, the Eastern District of Virginia denied two motions to dismiss filed by the new employers of employees governed by non-compete agreements. DePuy employed two salespersons pursuant to employment agreements that contained non-compete provisions. They eventually left DePuy and began working for a competitor, Sky Surgical. DePuy sued the employees and Sky Surgical. This blog post examines the tortious interference of employment contract claim made by DePuy against the new employer, Sky Surgical.

employee noncompete agreement

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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 1:15 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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Smile! You’re on HOA Meeting Camera! Can I videotape my HOA meeting?

October 30, 2014 on 1:15 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

If you work with community associations in Virginia as a board member, manager or attorney, you probably know that Virginia law permits HOA members to record any open meeting of the association. The relevant statute, Virginia Code § 55-510.1(B) of the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act, contains one short paragraph which outlines the recording requirement as follows:

Any member may record any portion of a meeting required to be open. The board of directors or subcommittee or other committee thereof conducting the meeting may adopt rules (i) governing the placement and use of equipment necessary for recording a meeting to prevent interference with the proceedings and (ii) requiring the member recording the meeting to provide notice that the meeting is being recorded.

The provision gives associations the authority to adopt rules with respect to the recording of meetings, however, the authority to enact rules is very narrow in scope:

1. The association is permitted to establish rules regarding only the placement and use of the equipment; and

2.  The member recording is required to provide notice that they are recording the meeting.

Association rules that reach farther than these two items violate the Property Owners’ Association Act according to a recent Determination issued by the Office of the Common Interest Community Ombudsman (“Ombudsman”).

 

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Make sure HOA Document Amendments are properly certified

October 30, 2014 on 1:15 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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You obtained a judgment against your construction contractor, how do you collect?

October 30, 2014 on 1:15 pm | In Construction litigation, General Interest, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Sometimes your dispute with your contractor goes all the way to court and you obtain a judgment. However, sometimes the contractor does not have the ability to pay the judgment, so financially, you are out-of-pocket your judgment damages plus your attorneys’ fees. You may have one last alternative to recover at least a portion of your losses through the Virginia Contractor Transaction Recovery Fund (the “Recovery Fund”).

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

Williamsburg Courthouse

 

 

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