Benefits of HOAs Part 3: The Importance of Assessments to your Community

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

To many homeowners, the assessments they pay to their homeowners or condominium association are just one more bill each month. Too often, owners don’t realize the benefits they get in exchange for these assessments. Some owners even go so far as to stop paying their assessments. A careful review of your association’s budget would show that the benefits for owners that come from their assessment payments far surpass the cost of the assessment. But when an owner chooses not to pay, everyone in the community bears the consequences.

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Can an HOA prohibit the posting of political signs?

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Land Use Planning, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Well, it’s that time of year when signs start popping up in neighborhoods as election day draws near. In neighborhoods governed by a homeowner or condominium association, boards of directors are sometimes asked to enforce sign restrictions when one neighbor complains about another’s political sign (and probably, the neighbor’s choice of candidate).

A person’s first response typically is “I have the right to free speech and you can’t stop me from posting my political sign on my property!” However, is that the end of the discussion? This blog post reviews a community association’s rights and responsibilities regarding political signs.

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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 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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Arbitration in debt collection: FTC says it’s a broken system

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 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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Requests to Inspect and Copy Community Association or Company Records: Should it be this complicated?

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

A Virginia Beach jury found a condominium association liable for failing to permit unit owners an opportunity to inspect and copy association records. Not only must the condo board allow inspection and copying, they must pay for an audit of the association records and pay $50,000 for the unit owners’ attorneys’ fees.

These questions arise frequently. This blog post reviews the various Virginia statutes that address the right to inspect and copy records for companies, HOAs and condominium associations.

HOA Filing Information

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4 things your HOA needs to know about Virginia’s complaint process

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

In 2008, Virginia enacted legislation requiring condominium and property owners’ associations to establish reasonable procedures for resolving member and citizen complaints. The legislation further required the Common Interest Community Board (the “CICB”) to establish regulations for the associations to govern the complaint process.

 

What does this mean for your association? You will need to establish, or amend, your written procedures to comply with the regulations.

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Get your fence off my property!

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 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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Virginia Statute – HOAs must adopt “Cost Schedule” to recover copy costs

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

The Virginia Code has provisions that provide members of condominium associations and homeowner associations with the ability to request copies of books and records. The statutes have also permitted  associations to recover the costs of copying the requested books and records.

This blog post highlights a new statutory provision affecting common interest communities. On July 1, 2012, HOAs and condo associations will only be able to recover these copying costs if the association has adopted a cost schedule.

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Pool Season: Is Your Association Ready to Take the Plunge?

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on Pool Season: Is Your Association Ready to Take the Plunge?

Many Community Associations prepare to open their neighborhood pool by adding chemicals and performing maintenance to ensure the health and safety of the Owners. But just as HOAs take care in measuring chlorine and skimming leaves, Boards of Directors are well-advised to take care in preparing the Association’s Pool Rules. This blog post reviews the possible “rules” that HOAs may implement for pool safety.

HOAs, Swimming Pool and the ADA

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Three Factors An HOA Should Consider When Hiring An Attorney

October 30, 2014 on 1:07 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Selecting an attorney is one of the more significant decisions made by the board of directors for a community association. Often times, the association makes its decision based upon price alone. Although “price” is a valid factor to consider, there are other important factors the board should review during its selection process. This article addresses three of the major considerations.

First, the board should determine the prospective attorney’s experience level in the representation of community associations. Attorneys for common interest communities are similar to the general counsel in major corporations because of the wide range of issues that arise. Extensive experience in many of the possible legal issues facing community associations should be a prerequisite.

Tarley Robinson

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