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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.

Who pays when a tree falls on my property?

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | 2 Comments

Hurricane Irene left a lot of damage in Virginia. Although the damage was not as great and widespread as caused by Hurricane Isabel, many of us had in excess of ten inches of rain and suffered from many fallen trees. This tree fell in my back yard.

We  previously blogged about issues arising when a neighbor’s vegetation, including trees, encroaches upon our property. In that situation, we can cut the offending vegetation, including roots, back to the common property line. However, if the vegetation is also damaging our property,  the Court can order the complete removal of the offending vegetation and award us compensation for our expenses, including compensation for damages.

After Hurricane Irene, we should visit another question: who pays for damage when my neighbor’s tree falls on my property? Generally speaking, this property law question involves an issue of negligence and insurance. Each situation would require a review of the facts, and a review of your homeowner’s insurance policy, but here is some general guidance:

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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?

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on What can an HOA do to collect past dues when a bankrupt homeowner surrenders property but the lender does not foreclose?

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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Caveat Emptor and a Buyer’s Duty to Investigate Real Estate Purchase

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Construction litigation, General Interest, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We blogged about a Charlottesville Circuit Court case in which the court analyzed the duty to disclose for a seller of residential real estate.  We wrote another post regarding that case discussing an exception to the rule of caveat emptor. Specifically, if the seller attempted to “divert” the purchaser’s attention away from problem areas, a court could find fraud and rescind the contract.

However, in Virginia, if a prospective home purchaser discovers information alerting him to a potential problem, that person is charged with knowledge he would have found had he diligently pursued the inquiry. That rule was highlighted in an unpublished opinion released by the Virginia Supreme Court. This blog post reviews the facts of that case and the lessons to learn for real estate sellers and buyers.

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When is it unlawful for a business to terminate an employee?

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Business Planning, Jason Howell, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

The short answer is, rarely. Virginia is an at-will employment state. This means that an employer can discharge an employee for any reason or for no reason at all, just not for an unlawful reason. An employer who terminates an employee for an unlawful reason may be liable to the employee. The question answer in this blog post is: when is a reason unlawful?

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Smokin’ in the Condo

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | 2 Comments

Imagine if someone told Don Draper and Roger Sterling of Mad Men that they could no longer smoke in their apartments. They would look at you curiously, smirk and light up a cigarette. But Mad Men, the television show about a Madison Avenue advertising agency is set in 1965 and as the ad for Virginia Slims said, “[we’ve] come a long way, baby.” Almost half of all adults smoked in 1965 but that percentage has dropped to 18% by 2012.

The negative health effects have been documented and the reported adverse health effects caused by second-hand smoke has resulted in smoking bans in restaurants. One of the next areas in which smoking bans have been put in place is in condominium communities. Some of the smoking bans address common elements only but others have imposed a ban on smoking in the condominium unit.

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When is a “Contract” not a Contract?

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Business Planning, Construction litigation, General Interest, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We know that in Virginia, the parties to a contract are bound to the terms of that contract. We also know that Virginia courts look to the terms of that contract to determine each party’s rights and obligations. But what is a “contract?” This blog post looks at a recent Virginia Supreme Court case that gives a little guidance to answer that question.

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One important tip for your construction project – Change Orders

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 pm | In Construction litigation, General Interest, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

The DPOR regulations require Class A Contractors to obtain written change orders “which are signed by both the consumer and the licensee.” This requirement sounds pretty reasonable and easy to maintain, yet the reality is that many contractors fail to fully comply with this provision, leading to possible problems down the road.

 

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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

April 23, 2020 on 2:06 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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Mediation and Arbitration – There is a big difference

April 23, 2020 on 2:05 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

In conversations with clients, it seems that people misuse the terms “mediation” and “arbitration” more than most other legal terms. Although I do not have any empirical data, my educated guess is that many businesses and construction contractors (who did not depend upon advice given by an experienced business attorney) insert “arbitration” clauses into their contracts thinking that they mean “mediation.” Some transactions involving the sale of real estate include an arbitration clause. Countless times, clients involved in a potential lawsuit point to the “arbitration” clause, and are disheartened when I explain to them the arbitration process. Many thought they were avoiding the potential high costs of litigation. These terms are NOT interchangeable and in this blog post I will explain the basic differences between them.

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Using your business’ computer to email your attorney may be a bad idea

April 23, 2020 on 2:05 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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