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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.

Arbitration in debt collection: FTC says it’s a broken system

April 22, 2020 on 6:34 pm | In Common Interest Community, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Weekly Tweets | Comments Off on Arbitration in debt collection: FTC says it’s a broken system

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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Attorneys’ Fees and Litigation – When fees get awarded to the “Prevailing Party”

March 17, 2020 on 4:10 pm | In Common Interest Community, Construction litigation, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Mediation, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

In litigation matters involving common interest communities (otherwise known as homeowners associations (“HOAs”) or condominium owners associations (“condo associations”)), the issue of awarding attorneys’ fees for prevailing parties ultimately arises. Generally, the HOA’s Governing Documents or the condo association’s Condominium Instruments contain such a provision. Otherwise, attorneys’ fees may be recoverable by statute for HOAs and condo associations.

These attorney fee-shifting provisions, either by contract or statute, are contrary to the typical “American Rule” cases in which each side pays their own attorneys’ fees. Because litigation has become so expensive to pursue, whether to award attorneys’ fees, and the amount of any award, has become separate litigation on its own at the conclusion of cases.

In the recent case of Dewberry & Davis, Inc. v. C3NS, Inc., the Virginia Supreme Court was faced with the issue of “whether the circuit court erred in applying an attorneys’ fees provision of a contract.” We had previously blogged about this case, because in the underlying contract between the parties, Dewberry & Davis, an engineering company, had limited its liability for damages. The trial court had determined the limitation of liability clause was void, pointing to a recent change to Virginia Code § 54.1-411that permitted an engineering company to include a limitation of liability clause. Because the contract predated the code change, the court determined that those changes “demonstrate that the General Assembly fully intended to alter the statute’s intent.”

The case continued to trial, and eventually, upon appeal, to the Virginia Supreme Court. This blog post explains that Supreme Court decision relating to the award of attorneys’ fees.

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Can an engineering firm limit its liability by contract?

March 17, 2020 on 4:09 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

 

Maybe not, in certain circumstances. A Fairfax County judge has determined that an engineering firm cannot limit its liability by contract in a case involving a 2008 fee contract. The typical fee agreement for an engineering firm includes some form of “limitation of liability” in which the firm seeks to limit its liability “to the amount of fees paid” to the firm, whether the claim is for breach of contract or warranty, or for negligence. In the case of Dewberry & Davis, Inc. v. C3NS, Inc., the engineering services firm, Dewberry, filed a fee claim against C3NS. C3NS filed a counterclaim for breach of contract. Dewberry had a limitation of liability clause in its fee agreement. It sought summary judgment to prevent C3NS from claiming that the limitation of liability paragraph was void. The Court sided with C3NS.

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ADA Compliance – (Another) Update on HOAs, Condos and Swimming Pools

March 17, 2020 on 4:09 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 happens if a tree falls from my property onto a public highway causing damage?

January 6, 2020 on 11:48 am | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

“Tree law” fascinates us. I guess part of the reason is because many of us have at least one tree on our property, and during severe storms, we fear what would happen if one of those trees fell on our house, our neighbor’s house, or the street. Once the fear subsides, the next question we ask ourselves is “Who would pay if the tree fell on our neighbor’s property or vice versa and caused damage?” Or our neighbor’s tree may overhang our property or its roots may cause damage to our property, “What can we do then?” These issues are important considerations for property owners and community associations when reviewing their insurance policies.

The Virginia Supreme Court added to the small body of Virginia “tree law” cases. In this case, Cline v. Dunlora South, LLC, a man driving on a public road was struck and injured by a tree  that fell from private property. The man sued the property owner, claiming that the property owner’s “conduct constituted a nuisance because [its] lack of care, inspection, servicing, and/or maintenance of the subject property and tree was a condition that imperiled the safety of the public highway immediately adjacent to the property and tree, creating a danger and hazard to motorists and/or pedestrians.” The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, and on appeal the Virginia Supreme Court agreed that the property owner did not have “a duty to protect travelers on an adjoining public roadway from natural conditions on his or her land.” This blog post reviews that decision and what it means for us.

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Email scams (continued)

October 30, 2019 on 1:41 pm | In General Interest, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We have previously written a blog piece warning of increased email scam activity and sophistication. Expect more. Another victim of these email scams has come to light, and this victim was a lawyer. An article in Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly told the story of a lawyer victim of a successful email scam. This blog post provides another warning against these scams.

Email

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Can HOAs Prohibit Owners From Flying the American Flag?

October 30, 2014 on 1:39 pm | In General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Flying the flag is an important way that Americans celebrate their liberty and the sacrifices of past and present heroes who defend it. There were news stories about a dispute between an Ohio homeowners’ association and a Vietnam veteran over a flagpole that brought an important issue to the forefront.

In Ohio, a homeowner erected a large flagpole on his property to fly the flag. The homeowners’ association told him that the flagpole (not the flag) violated the declaration of covenants for the neighborhood, and asked him to take the flagpole down. It offered to place flagpoles in common areas in the neighborhood, and suggested that the covenants would allow him to fly a flag on a pole attached to his house. He refused. After a firestorm of publicity, the HOA averted litigation by permitting the homeowner to keep his flagpole. The underlying question remains: can a homeowners’ association really prohibit an owner from flying the American Flag?

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Do you need an attorney to negotiate on your behalf?

March 31, 2014 on 10:31 am | In Business Planning, General Interest, Merger & Acquisition, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation, Weekly Tweets | No Comments

This blog post comes from Jason Howell, our 2011 Summer Associate when he was a rising third-year law student at the William & Mary Law School. Jason is working with us this summer and debuts his first blog post.

Negotiation can be challenging. Whether you are negotiating the terms of a business agreement, trying to buy or sell property, or settling a dispute, getting to an agreement can be difficult. Even if you are successful in getting the other side to negotiate with you, you may feel at a disadvantage or worry that there is something in the final negotiated agreement you are missing.

Hiring an experienced attorney to represent you can give you advantages that can help you get to an acceptable agreement. By using an attorney in your negotiation, you can benefit from the attorney’s knowledge and skill, which can help you to reach your negotiation goals.

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I want to rent my house to a tenant, do I need an attorney to draft a lease for me?

March 31, 2014 on 10:31 am | In General Interest, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation, Weekly Tweets | No Comments

Frequently, a homeowner contemplating renting out his property believes that he will be able to save money by writing his own lease or using a do-it-yourself lease form found or purchased online. Almost as frequently, the homeowner realizes too late that if he had spent a little money up front to have an attorney prepare a lease, or at least review his proposed lease, he could have saved himself a lot of time, money, and aggravation. By the time problems arise with a tenant, it is too late to ensure that the lease contains all of the provisions necessary to protect the homeowner’s interests.

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Virginia Leadership Retreat – 2012

July 23, 2012 on 10:21 am | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association, Weekly Tweets | No Comments

This week, at the venerable Homestead, the annual Virginia Leadership Retreat will take place. For this event, community managers and their management company executives, guest speakers, and the community association attorneys and service providers from all parts of Virginia will meet to discuss this year’s topic: Changing Times in Community Associations.

Both Susan Tarley and John Tarley will teach classes at the VLR, discussing topics about which we blog frequently. The topics for this year’s event include:

  • Learning to Communicate like a Pro;
  • The Role of a Manager as a First Responder;
  • Leadership Training;
  • Preparing for “Forcing Green” Legislation (taught by Susan Tarley);
  • Conflict Management Skills;
  • Virginia Legislative Update; and
  • Dealing with Lawsuits (taught by John Tarley).

The VLR provides us with an opportunity to mingle with other industry professionals so we can provide better service for our clients. Oh, and the golf is pretty nice, too!

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

 

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