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

October 30, 2014 on 1:11 pm | In Common Interest Community, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

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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Simple Tips for Effective HOA Due Process Hearings

October 30, 2014 on 1:11 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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Homeowner cannot be forced to join a voluntary HOA

October 30, 2014 on 1:11 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

In a case from the Chesterfield Circuit Court, the circuit court judge determined that a homeowner could not be forced to pay association dues to a voluntary association. This result is not surprising.


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Benefits of Community Associations Part 1: Are HOAs really as bad as some portray?

October 30, 2014 on 1:10 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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Get your fence off my property!

October 30, 2014 on 1:10 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Clients sometimes come to us with disputes regarding real estate litigation matters involving boundary line and easement encroachments. We provide legal advice and counsel, trying to balance your real estate rights with neighborly harmony, always looking to avoid a lawsuit when possible.

Easements provide a broad range of legal rights and obligations. In a fairly recent Virginia Supreme Court case, Snead v. C&S Properties Holding Company, a landowner blocked access to a validly recorded easement. The easement holder filed a lawsuit, asking the court to order the obstruction removed. The Virginia Supreme Court ordered the fence removed, concluding that “a significant portion of the easement would be rendered unusable for ingress and egress if injunctive relief were denied.”

Common Interest Communities

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HOAs and Transition from Developer Control – 101

October 30, 2014 on 1:10 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Owners in most community associations—both homeowner associations and condominium associations—eventually reach the point where the developer transfers control of the Board of Directors to the owners. This blog post provides an introduction to the transition process and what owners can expect.

Susan Tarley

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Another Thanks to Construction Law Musings – HOAs and Construction Defects

October 30, 2014 on 1:10 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, Unit Owners Association | 1 Comment

Richmond Construction Law attorney Chris Hill, my friend and colleague, permitted me another opportunity to blog at his award-winning blog Construction Law Musings. Chris is an outstanding Virginia attorney, and his blog is a great source of information on construction law, including the intricacies of mechanic’s liens. You can also follow him on Twitter, @ConstructionLaw.

Chris has a regular feature called “Guest Post Friday” in which he invites other bloggers to contribute to his Musings. For this blog, we wrote a post exploring the statutory warranties, provided in Va. Code § 55-79.79 of the Condominium Act, that require the Declarant to warrant “all of the common elements for two years.”

Here’s a brief excerpt of the post:

When either a commercial or residential condominium development nears the time of automatic transition, the developer and the owners face many challenges. The developer, or “Declarant,” must transfer responsibility for management, enforcement of the Condominium Instruments, and finances, amongst other responsibilities, to the new owner-controlled Board of Directors. With the pending departure of the Declarant, owners can become concerned about possible construction defects with the common elements. This blog post discusses the process and responsibilities under the statutory warranties provided by the Virginia Condominium Act.

Read the complete blog at Construction Law Musings, as well as many other informative posts on Chris’ outstanding blog. Thanks again, Chris!

Thank you

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A Checklist to improve the effectiveness of your HOA Board of Directors

October 30, 2014 on 1:10 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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HOAs and Mediation: Not always a viable alternative to Litigation

October 30, 2014 on 1:10 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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Can HOAs suspend pool privileges to collect unpaid assessments?

October 30, 2014 on 1:10 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

As summer begins and the temperature rises, people are eager to cool off in community pools. For homeowner’s associations and condominium associations, this can be an opportunity to encourage members behind in their assessments to get caught up.

Before an association starts suspending pool passes to encourage members to pay their dues, however, it should be aware of provisions in Virginia Law that affect what actions it can take. Both the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act and the Virginia Condominium Act allow an association to suspend services (including use of common areas such as pools) for failure to pay assessments, as long as the association complies with certain requirements.

Williamsburg Virginia Business and HOA Lawyers ADA

Swimming Pools and ADA

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