Make sure HOA Document Amendments are properly certified

February 19, 2016 on 5:39 am | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Megan Scanlon, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off

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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HOA Boards of Directors: Two Essential Tips to Effective Management

October 30, 2014 on 12:50 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | 2 Comments

Many of us can attest to the stress and lost time that results when working on, for, or with a dysfunctional Board of Directors. Boards that do not operate as a team fail to accomplish the tasks that need to be accomplished, and greatly increase the potential liabilities of a community association.

The healthy leadership of a board is essential to the strength of a community. Community associations can build a strong team if board members and owners better understand the roles and responsibilities of their association, the board and each owner. To start building a team, the board needs to lead. The goal of team building is to establish a strong association and build a sense of “community.”

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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 12:49 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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HOAs and Mediation: Not always a viable alternative to Litigation

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 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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Attorneys’ Fees and Litigation – When fees get awarded to the “Prevailing Party”

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In Common Interest Community, Construction litigation, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Mediation, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

In litigation matters involving common interest communities (otherwise known as homeowners associations (“HOAs”) or condominium owners associations (“condo associations”)), the issue of awarding attorneys’ fees for prevailing parties ultimately arises. Generally, the HOA’s Governing Documents or the condo association’s Condominium Instruments contain such a provision. Otherwise, attorneys’ fees may be recoverable by statute for HOAs and condo associations.

These attorney fee-shifting provisions, either by contract or statute, are contrary to the typical “American Rule” cases in which each side pays their own attorneys’ fees. Because litigation has become so expensive to pursue, whether to award attorneys’ fees, and the amount of any award, has become separate litigation on its own at the conclusion of cases.

In the recent case of Dewberry & Davis, Inc. v. C3NS, Inc., the Virginia Supreme Court was faced with the issue of “whether the circuit court erred in applying an attorneys’ fees provision of a contract.” We had previously blogged about this case, because in the underlying contract between the parties, Dewberry & Davis, an engineering company, had limited its liability for damages. The trial court had determined the limitation of liability clause was void, pointing to a recent change to Virginia Code § 54.1-411that permitted an engineering company to include a limitation of liability clause. Because the contract predated the code change, the court determined that those changes “demonstrate that the General Assembly fully intended to alter the statute’s intent.”

The case continued to trial, and eventually, upon appeal, to the Virginia Supreme Court. This blog post explains that Supreme Court decision relating to the award of attorneys’ fees.

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Benefits of HOAs Part 4: What do homeowners really think about their associations?

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

We’ve mentioned already the abundance of news articles criticizing community associations. If these news stories are to be believed, then associations are unpopular indeed. But is it true that residents living in community associations are unhappy with their association? Research by the Community Associations Institute suggests that it is not. In fact, the research suggests that more people than ever are choosing to live in communities with associations, and the overwhelming majority of those people are happy with their association.

Statistics compiled by the Community Associations Institute show that the number of associations continues to grow. In 1970, just ten thousand communities, with a combined 2.1 million residents, were governed by associations. Today there are over 309,000 communities governed by associations. More than 62 million Americans live in associations. 1.75 million volunteers serve on community association boards, and a full 26 percent of the eligible U.S. population volunteers for an association at some point during a year, according to one estimate. That kind of service simply would not happen if associations were as widely disliked as has been portrayed.

Williamsburg Virginia Business and HOA Lawyers

Common Interest Communities

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Simple Tips for Effective HOA Due Process Hearings

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

This blog post focuses on addressing one major source of discontent in community associations: due process hearings for alleged violations of the community’s governing documents or condominium instruments.

HOA Due Process Hearing

Homeowners want fairness

Complaints about HOA due process hearings can be split into at least three different categories:

  • Before the hearing, the Board
    • did not attempt to settle reasonably;
    • did not explain variance procedure; or
    • did not properly send notice of violation or opportunity to cure.
  • During the hearing,
    • The Board was disorganized;
    • A Board member was rude;
    • The Board was not prepared for the hearing;
    • The Board did not give owner time to gather/present case; or
    • The Board did not view property/alleged violation.
  • After the hearing,
    • The Board did not give valid reasons for decision; or
    • The penalty was unreasonable.

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Arbitration instead of Court? Be careful what you ask for

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Over the past 15 years or so, “arbitration” provisions have appeared with increasing frequency in a wide variety of contracts. For example, declarations of covenants and restrictions recorded for homeowners associations, construction contracts, employment contracts, and commercial leases all may contain arbitration clauses. Arbitration may be a good idea, but you should know what “arbitration” means before you agree to be bound by such a provision.

Many people confuse the terms “mediation” and “arbitration.” Mediation refers to a process whereby a third-party helps facilitate a negotiated settlement between two or more parties. A mediator does not make decisions, does not take evidence, and does not conduct hearings. Parties simply negotiate and the mediator helps foster those negotiations.

Conversely, arbitrations are conducted like regular trials, with a judge-like arbitrator (or arbitrators) making a final decision based upon the evidence presented, and hopefully the law of your jurisdiction. Appeals of an arbitrator’s decision are virtually nonexistent.

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What happens if a tree falls from my property onto a public highway causing damage?

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

“Tree law” fascinates us. I guess part of the reason is because many of us have at least one tree on our property, and during severe storms, we fear what would happen if one of those trees fell on our house, our neighbor’s house, or the street. Once the fear subsides, the next question we ask ourselves is “Who would pay if the tree fell on our neighbor’s property or vice versa and caused damage?” Or our neighbor’s tree may overhang our property or its roots may cause damage to our property, “What can we do then?” These issues are important considerations for property owners and community associations when reviewing their insurance policies.

The Virginia Supreme Court added to the small body of Virginia “tree law” cases. In this case, Cline v. Dunlora South, LLC, a man driving on a public road was struck and injured by a tree  that fell from private property. The man sued the property owner, claiming that the property owner’s “conduct constituted a nuisance because [its] lack of care, inspection, servicing, and/or maintenance of the subject property and tree was a condition that imperiled the safety of the public highway immediately adjacent to the property and tree, creating a danger and hazard to motorists and/or pedestrians.” The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, and on appeal the Virginia Supreme Court agreed that the property owner did not have “a duty to protect travelers on an adjoining public roadway from natural conditions on his or her land.” This blog post reviews that decision and what it means for us.

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Common Interest Community Board revokes a management company’s license

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, HOA, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

The Common Interest Community Board (the “CICB”) revoked a management company’s license for regulatory violations.  In a case reported in the September issue of the Community Associations Institute Law Reporter (Virginia Common Interest Community Board v. Sarraga t/a Lakeside Community Management, File No. 2010-00562, June 24, 2010), the CICB revoked the license of Sarraga t/aLakeside Community Management and issued fines totaling $2,000.

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