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

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 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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Attorney-Client Privilege: What is it and how do you protect it?

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 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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Homeowner cannot be forced to join a voluntary HOA

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 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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Smile! You’re on HOA Meeting Camera! Can I videotape my HOA meeting?

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 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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What can an HOA do to collect past dues when a bankrupt homeowner surrenders property but the lender does not foreclose?

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

An all-too-common scenario occurs when a homeowners association attempts to collect past dues and the homeowner files bankruptcy. The law is clear that the bankrupt homeowner is still liable for those post-petition dues. The United States Bankruptcy Code at Section 523(a)(16) makes the homeowner liable for “a fee or assessment that becomes due and payable after the order for relief to a [homeowners association] for as long as the debtor . . .  has a legal, equitable, or possessory ownership interest in such unit.”

In other instances the homeowner decides to walk away from the property and surrenders the property to the lender. Instead of foreclosing, however, the lender simply does nothing. Therefore, the title of the property is still in the name of the bankrupt homeowner who walked away from the property, and they are not paying the assessments. The lender has not foreclosed so they are not paying the assessments. How can the homeowners association collect these past due post-petition assessments?

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 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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Arbitration in debt collection: FTC says it’s a broken system

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 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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Have You Updated Your HOA Management Contract Lately?

October 30, 2014 on 1:25 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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ADA Compliance – (Another) Update on HOAs, Condos and Swimming Pools

October 30, 2014 on 1:25 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

We have blogged about new requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) that may affect Homeowners Associations and Condominium Associations that own swimming pools, wading pools, or spas. Subsequently, we updated our previous post to report upon an update to the required compliance date.

The Justice Department has now issued a “final rule” revising “the Department of Justice regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act to extend until January 31, 2013” as the compliance date for the ADA Standards for Accessible Design for existing pools and spas.

Consequently, if your HOA or Condo Association allows non-members of the association to use its pool in exchange for some form of compensation, your pool may fall under the definition of a public accommodation. If it does, the association would have to comply with the new ADA Standards and provide accessible entry and exits no later than January 31, 2013. What does that mean for your HOA?

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What does it mean to be on the Board of Directors of your HOA? Fiduciary Duties (Part 1 of a series)

October 30, 2014 on 1:25 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, HOA, Merger & Acquisition, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Board members are told that they have fiduciary duties to the community association, but what does that really mean?  Fiduciary duties arise because the members of the association entrust a board member to act in the best interest of the association when handling the association’s business.

There are three components that are important to understand fiduciary duty.  First, the Virginia Code, at § 13.1-870, imposes on directors a requirement that a director exercise her duties in good faith and in the best interest of the association.  This requirement is the so-called “business judgment” rule. Second, Virginia case law imposes duty of care that requires a board member to act as a reasonable person would under similar circumstances.  Third, Virginia case law imposes a duty of loyalty that requires a board member to put the association before any personal interest.  These last two duties are referred to as “common law” duties. Continue reading “What does it mean to be on the Board of Directors of your HOA? Fiduciary Duties (Part 1 of a series)”

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