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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Can I “hire” an unpaid intern for my business?

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Business Planning, Employment law, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | 2 Comments

I teach as an adjunct faculty member at the William & Mary Law School. I find this part-time teaching gig very stimulating intellectually because the law students at W&M are extremely intelligent, diligent, and driven. This past week a new class of first-year law students arrived with great expectations about their futures. The reality of the job market, though, is that the legal profession has not been immune from the effects of this difficult economy.

Some of my second-year law students have also arrived back into Williamsburg, and I have been surprised at the number of students who report they worked as an “unpaid intern.” Although this practice is permissible in certain situations, these working arrangements with private law firms probably violates federal labor laws, and it is particularly distressing that it occurs in the practice of law. This blog post provides some guidance for your small business when deciding whether to “hire” an unpaid intern.

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 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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Real Estate Listing Agreements for the sale of property: Are they enforceable even if not in writing?

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In General Interest, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Generally speaking a party can enforce an oral agreement. However, courts will not enforce certain contracts unless they are in writing. For example, under Virginia Code § 11-2, commonly known as the Statute of Frauds, an agreement or contract for services to be performed in the sale of real estate by a real estate broker or real estate sales person is not enforceable “[u]nless a promise, contract, agreement, representation, assurance, or ratification, or some memorandum or note thereof, is in writing and signed by the party to be charged or his agent . . . .”

Most real estate agents and brokers understand the importance of having written listing agreements with their sellers. However, a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Virginia points out that even in the absence of a written listing agreement, an oral listing contract may be enforceable if there is sufficient documentation to remove it from the bar to enforcement of the Statute of Frauds. The Virginia Supreme Court, in the case of C. Porter Vaughan, Inc., Realtors v. Most Reverend Francis X. DiLorenzo, Bishop of The Catholic Diocese of Richmond, 279 Va. 449, 689 S.E.2d 656 (2010), better defined what is meant by “sufficient documentation.”

House For Sale

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Builders and Owners: Have your residential construction contract reviewed before you sign it

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Common Interest Community, Construction litigation, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

 

Construction litigation has become a time-consuming and expensive area of legal practice. Even in residential construction, attorney and expert fees, and other costs of the lawsuits can rise high into five figures. Unfortunately, in many instances, better planning and attorney review at the beginning may have prevented the bitter litigation that ensued.

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

Construction Contracts

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Oral Contracts are enforceable, but . . . .

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Business Planning, Construction litigation, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Many times, parties enter into informal loan agreements on a simple oral promise to “pay it back.”  Similarly, others will enter into oral agreements to perform residential construction projects, or other types of projects. When things do not go as expected and the promises are of a value worth litigating over (or one of the parties to the promise thinks they are) things can go swiftly downhill.

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

Contracts

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ADA, FHA, and HOAs And Service Animals: Florida Association Sued for housing discrimination

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

A short while ago we wrote a blog piece on the issues relating to community associations regulating service animals. In that blog we noted that the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”)  “permits individuals with disabilities to keep an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation when there are limitations imposed by the homeowner or condominium association on animals and pets.”  In Broward County, Florida, that county’s Civil Rights Division filed suit against a condominium association for violating the FHA by refusing to consider a person’s request for an “emotional servant animal,” a chihuahua.

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HOAs and Mediation: Not always a viable alternative to Litigation

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 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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When Raising Money For Investment Purposes From Any Source, BEWARE

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Business Planning, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Raising money or obtaining other property for investment purposes from whatever source in Virginia, including from family and friends, implicates state and federal law.

Some may have read about the recent action for fraud filed by Andrew Cuomo, the Attorney General of the State of New York, against Ernst & Young, LLP, one of the largest accounting firms in the United States.  Some, noting that this action was not brought under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, may have wondered from whence the Attorney General’s authority arose.  Authority arose under the Martin Act, a New York law initially passed in 1921, and amended and codified in 1982 in Article 23-A of the New York General Business Law.

What is important for those in the Commonwealth of Virginia attempting to raise money or obtain other property for investment purposes is that Virginia has similar securities laws.  Virginia’s Securities Act is codified in Title 13.1, Chapter 5, of the Code of Virginia.  As with that of the State of New York, the reach of Virginia’s Securities Act differs from, and is more extensive than, that of the federal securities acts.

Ernst & Young

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Can an advisor be held liable for the false statements in a prospectus made by another?

October 30, 2014 on 1:07 pm | In Business Planning, Contributors, General Interest, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments
Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

United States Supreme Court

Previously we blogged about a pending case before the Supreme Court that had the possibility to significantly increase the liability of persons for assisting in the preparation of a “prospectus.” As of June 13, 2011, the Supreme Court handed down an opinion in that case, styled as Janus Capital Group, Inc. v. First Derivative Traders, No. 09-525 (S. Ct.).

The determination of this case is relevant to accountants and business lawyers who assist in the preparation of documents for the purpose of raising money for investment. The Janus Capital Group, Inc. case presented the question of who may be deemed to have “made” an untrue statement for the purposes of Rule 10b-5, and specifically whether someone who assisted in the preparation of a prospectus could “make” a statement through such assistance. As the result of a 5-4 decision, accountants and business attorneys may breathe a little easier. Continue reading “Can an advisor be held liable for the false statements in a prospectus made by another?”

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