Who pays when a tree falls on my property?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Hurricane Irene left a lot of damage in Virginia. Although the damage was not as great and widespread as caused by Hurricane Isabel, many of us had in excess of ten inches of rain and suffered from many fallen trees. This tree fell in my back yard.

We  previously blogged about issues arising when a neighbor’s vegetation, including trees, encroaches upon our property. In that situation, we can cut the offending vegetation, including roots, back to the common property line. However, if the vegetation is also damaging our property,  the Court can order the complete removal of the offending vegetation and award us compensation for our expenses, including compensation for damages.

After Hurricane Irene, we should visit another question: who pays for damage when my neighbor’s tree falls on my property? Generally speaking, this property law question involves an issue of negligence and insurance. Each situation would require a review of the facts, and a review of your homeowner’s insurance policy, but here is some general guidance:

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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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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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4 Tips to help your HOA protect its Attorney-Client Privilege

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

The Attorney-Client Privilege protects confidential communications between an attorney and his or her client.  This privilege includes communications made to the attorney and communications from the attorney. The Attorney-Client Privilege is designed to encourage clients to communicate with their attorney freely, without fearing disclosure of those communications made in the course of representation. The Attorney-Client Privilege is important because it permits clients to give their attorney complete and uncensored information, enabling their attorney to provide informed and thorough legal advice.

For community associations, the Attorney-Client Privilege belongs to the association and can only be expressly waived by the a decision of the association board or executive organ. However, the privilege can be impliedly waived based on the client’s conduct.  A determination on whether the privilege has been waived will depend on the specific facts of each case. The association will have to establish that the attorney-client relationship existed, that the communication is privileged, and that the privilege was not waived.

Here are four basic tips for the board of your Common Interest Community to follow so that it protects the association’s Attorney-Client Privilege:

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HOA Case Study: A Board’s statements or conduct may establish the enforceability of its governing documents

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 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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Make sure you properly register your business

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson | No Comments

From time-to-time we have counseled clients whose companies were formed in other states, but they are also conducting business in Virginia. One task that sometimes gets overlooked is the necessity to properly register their corporation in Virginia. That oversight could have disastrous consequences, including personal liability for officers, shareholders, and agents for corporate actions. Fortunately, Virginia’s State Corporation Commission gives us an informative primer on the necessary requirements, including the relatively simple steps to register your foreign corporation. Remember that if you have a Virginia company doing business in other states, it is most likely that those states require a similar registration process. Among the reasons you form a company is to shield yourself from liability. Make sure you have taken care of all your responsibilities.

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 1:19 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 Checklist to improve the effectiveness of your HOA Board of Directors

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 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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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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What can an HOA Board do if members question whether the President acted properly?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In General Interest | No Comments

Susan Tarley answered a question that was published in the March/April 2013 issue of the Common Ground, the Community Association Institute’s Magazine for Community Association Leaders. Here is the question and answer.

Question

Our bylaws state that no reimbursement shall be given for services rendered by any board member unless voted and agreed on amongst the board members. I am a board member, and our association president has submitted bills totaling more than $600 to our management company without board approval and has been paid. A review of the past years minutes indicate no such vote was taken. We feel the president has his own monetary agenda and does not care about our community. I understand we can file a petition with 67% of the unit owners signing to have him removed, but we just want our money. What can we do?

Williamsburg Virginia HOA Lawyers

Board of Directors

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