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    The Greater Williamsburg area is an exciting place to live and work, especially because of the large number of entrepreneurs who have built businesses from the ground up. These entrepreneurs have taken their passion and made it their profession. Many of us want to take that step. Before you begin, you need to think of the type of business entity you want to form. Our attorneys have extensive business experience, from small one-person companies to publicly traded major corporations. Our attorneys are among the leaders in Virginia in the representation of Common Interest Communities. These communities are generally referred to as "homeowners associations," or "HOAs," and "condominium associations." In the greater Williamsburg area alone, we provide legal assistance to nearly 100 associations. Our attorneys have successfully prosecuted and defended a wide array of civil disputes involving community association covenant enforcement, commercial transactions, construction disputes, contracts, real estate matters, boundary line and easement disputes, employment matters, antitrust litigation, copyright violations, administrative proceedings, and estate issues. Real Estate law encompasses a wide variety of matters, and our attorneys have vast experience to assist you. Whether you need assistance with a commercial or residential closing, or you have questions relating to residential or commercial leasing, we provide experienced advice and counsel to our clients. Zoning law can be a complicated maze of statutes and ordinances. We have ample experience in successful applications for rezoning, variance, and special use permit requests. Finally, commercial and residential construction provide special challenges with respect to financing issues and the construction process. We serve as counsel to various financial institutions.

HOA Litigation: Is it avoidable?

October 30, 2014 on 1:40 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Mediation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

We have written previously on the costs—both in time and money—for homeowners and condominium associations to litigate cases. On one hand, boards of directors have a fiduciary duty to uphold the governing documents of associations, but on the other, the board must investigate alternatives to the divisive nature of litigation.

As it turns out, sometimes there is no alternative because a homeowner can sue an HOA, forcing the association to defend. But what efforts can or should a homeowners or condo association take to avoid the consequences of litigation?

A series of recent Virginia cases highlights the consequences associations can face in litigation cases. This blog posts provides a brief summary of those cases and some cautionary advice.

Williamsburg Virginia Business and HOA Lawyers

Board of Directors Meeting

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Have You Updated Your HOA Management Contract Lately?

October 30, 2014 on 1:40 pm | In Business Law, Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Many of us are so busy in performing the work that we are hired to do that we often neglect the housekeeping we should do for our businesses. Management agreements with community associations may fall into this category. As with many agreements in which sections are revised but the whole contract is not reviewed, management agreements can take on a life of their own as they are tweaked here and there. In this blog, we discuss the need to take time to have your forms and contracts reviewed to ensure that your management company is protected by the agreement, that it reflects current law, and that it comports to any required regulations.

 Contract

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Can I cut down my neighbor’s tree when its branches overhang my property?

October 30, 2014 on 1:40 pm | In Common Interest Community, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | 4 Comments

In our ever crowding residential areas, more of us experience the situation in which the limbs of a neighbor’s tree overhang our property line. Most of the time, these limbs do not pose us any concern, but questions do arise as to whether we have the right to prune our neighbor’s trees. In the past,the Virginia rule has been that you could trim the branches of your neighbor’s tree up to your property line. However, the Virginia Supreme Court expanded that long-standing rule when it decided that an owner whose property was damaged by the root system of a neighbor’s tree may be entitled to more relief than simply cutting back the roots and overhanging branches to the property line.

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:40 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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Holiday Lights and your HOA

October 30, 2014 on 1:40 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on Holiday Lights and your HOA
Happy Holidays

The Virginia Supreme Court has issued another ruling specifying the limitations of homeowners associations to enact guidelines, rules, and regulations that exceed the scope of their authority.

We had written previously about attempts by HOAs to regulate holiday decorations. The first item on our suggested checklist to assist homeowners association was “Does the Board have the authority to regulate holiday decorations? If not, your inquiry stops here.” As it turns out, that is the basis for the Court’s decision in Sainani v. Belmont Glen Homeowners Association.

In Sainani, the association adopted guidelines for “Seasonal Holiday Decorations” (the “Guidelines”) to regulate various aspects of homeowners’ display of exterior lighting. The trial court found that the homeowners violated the Guidelines by having the “lights . . . on 24/7” for “at least 300 days a year.”

On appeal, the homeowners argued that the Guidelines exceeded the HOA’s authority and were unenforceable. The Virginia Supreme Court agreed. In essence, the Court specifically stated that “None of the covenants in the amended declaration can be construed to authorize the seasonal guidelines, and thus, the seasonal guidelines exceed the scope of the HOA’s authority.”

As we wrote in another blog post analyzing an unpublished order from the Virginia Supreme Court in the case of Shadowood Condominium Association et al., v. Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority, “Unless the . . . governing documents specifically permit the common interest community to impose the charges and/or suspension of rights for violations of the documents . . . it is likely that a court may find against the association where the owner contests such actions.” The Sainani case will have ramifications for HOAs who do not follow those guidelines.

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Stop in the name of the…homeowner association! – Can private HOA security forces pull you over?

October 30, 2014 on 1:40 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Virginia’s Attorney General, Mark R. Herring, published an advisory opinion concerning private security forces used by community associations (the “Opinion”). These security forces often act as quasi-police departments and help relieve localities by providing routine patrols in private communities. In the Williamsburg area, the local police often defer to HOA security forces for regular patrols, and health and safety checks. When it comes to more serious police action, like issuing traffic tickets and arresting homeowners, the roles and authority of HOA security forces becomes less clear. This blog post discusses the role of private security forces in homeowners’ associations and the Opinion that addresses some of these concerns.

MC900283147

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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:40 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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Using your business’ computer to email your attorney may be a bad idea

October 30, 2014 on 1:40 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Email

Well, we have written about protecting the attorney-client privilege and about safe emailing tips when emailing your attorney. Although we thought we had it pretty well covered, a recent decision from a California appellate has given us something more to think about.
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7 reasons to consider amending your HOA’s governing documents

October 30, 2014 on 1:40 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

In other posts we have discussed a homeowner association’s governing documents. Many communities were established 20-40 years ago with governing documents that worked well for the developer, and for the most part the community association. However, many of these governing documents are outdated.  Virginia and federal laws pertaining to community associations have changed substantially.  If your board of directors has not engaged in an audit of your communities governing documents in the past 5-7 years, it should.

What is an “audit” of our governing documents?

An “audit” of your documents is an in-depth review by your HOA’s board of directors in conjunction with your association attorney.  The Board reviews each document noting any sections that lack clarity, are no longer enforced, appear to not apply to your community, protect a long-gone developer, or do not provide the association with adequate remedies.  The Board prepares a list of concerns or issues facing the community, such as homes that are not being maintained, large amounts of delinquent assessments, or enforcement capabilities of the association.  The Board provides this information to the association attorney.

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Virginia HOAs and Olde Belhaven – Guest Post on Construction Law Musings

October 30, 2014 on 1:40 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

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

For Chris’ blog, we wrote a post exploring the Olde Belhaven case that made it into the national media. Our take is that we must remember that HOA Governing Documents are drafted by counsel for the developers, and when the developers leave, the enforcement of those restrictions is left to the volunteer Boards of Directors of your neighborhood.

Here’s a brief excerpt of the post:

A recent case highlights what happens when an Association’s Board of Directors, trying to uphold its fiduciary duty by enforcing and upholding its governing documents goes head to head with homeowners, both believing that they are in the right. . . .

Our experience is that the volunteer Boards of Directors, when faced with tough choices, try to make decisions consistent with their fiduciary duties, in an attempt to protect the rights of all the owners in the neighborhood. That doesn’t mean they always make the right decisions, but these ordinary people are not ogres, either.

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

Williamsburg Virginia HOA Lawyers

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