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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.

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

April 23, 2020 on 2:11 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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Another Thanks to Construction Law Musings – HOAs and Construction Defects

April 23, 2020 on 2:11 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Richmond Construction Law attorney Chris Hill, my friend and colleague, permitted me another opportunity to blog at his award-winning blog Construction Law Musings. Chris is an outstanding Virginia attorney, and his blog is a great source of information on construction law, including the intricacies of mechanic’s liens. You can also follow him on Twitter, @ConstructionLaw.

Chris has a regular feature called “Guest Post Friday” in which he invites other bloggers to contribute to his Musings. For this blog, we wrote a post exploring the statutory warranties, provided in Va. Code § 55-79.79 of the Condominium Act, that require the Declarant to warrant “all of the common elements for two years.”

Here’s a brief excerpt of the post:

When either a commercial or residential condominium development nears the time of automatic transition, the developer and the owners face many challenges. The developer, or “Declarant,” must transfer responsibility for management, enforcement of the Condominium Instruments, and finances, amongst other responsibilities, to the new owner-controlled Board of Directors. With the pending departure of the Declarant, owners can become concerned about possible construction defects with the common elements. This blog post discusses the process and responsibilities under the statutory warranties provided by the Virginia Condominium Act.

Read the complete blog at Construction Law Musings, as well as many other informative posts on Chris’ outstanding blog. Thanks again, Chris!

Thank you

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

April 23, 2020 on 2:11 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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Who pays when a tree falls on my property?

April 23, 2020 on 2:11 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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Unauthorized Practice of Law: When unlicensed attorneys serve as HOA board members

April 23, 2020 on 2:11 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Merger & Acquisition, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

An article in the Virginia Gazette featured a story regarding the indictment of a local attorney for the unauthorized practice of law; a criminal charge classified as a class 1 misdemeanor. Although those allegations did not involve a homeowner association, it highlights a recurring issue for volunteer boards of directors for many organizations including homeowner associations and not-for-profit organizations on which attorneys serve. This article focuses on those issues facing boards for homeowner associations (“HOAs”) but the issues are similar for other volunteer boards of directors.

 

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Attorneys’ Fee Provision in a Contract is Rejected as “Unconscionable”

April 23, 2020 on 2:11 pm | In Business Law, Common Interest Community, Construction litigation, Employment law, General Interest, HOA, John Tarley, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on Attorneys’ Fee Provision in a Contract is Rejected as “Unconscionable”

Introduction

As we have previously written, Virginia generally follows the “American Rule” in requests for an award of attorneys’ fees in litigation cases. Jurisdictions that follow the American Rule require each side to pay their own attorneys’ fees, unless a party can point to a statute or contract provision that allows fee-shifting.

In a recent unpublished order, the Virginia Supreme Court struck a contractual fee-shifting provision. This blog post reviews that decision.

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How to Run An Effective HOA Board Meeting

April 23, 2020 on 2:11 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Have you ever asked yourself after an Association board meeting “what went wrong?” The flow of the meeting was off, the meeting went on way too long and the atmosphere was unwelcoming for the owners who came to observe. With some careful preparation and attention to some simple tips, you can leave your next board meeting with the feeling that everything was right on track.  Although we go into much greater detail when we hold our annual Board training seminars for our clients, this blog post provides some helpful tips to run your next board meeting.

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

April 23, 2020 on 2:11 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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Smile! You’re on HOA Meeting Camera! Can I videotape my HOA meeting?

April 23, 2020 on 2:11 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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7 reasons to consider amending your HOA’s governing documents

April 23, 2020 on 2:11 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

In other posts we have discussed a homeowner association’s governing documents. Many communities were established 20-40 years ago with governing documents that worked well for the developer, and for the most part the community association. However, many of these governing documents are outdated.  Virginia and federal laws pertaining to community associations have changed substantially.  If your board of directors has not engaged in an audit of your communities governing documents in the past 5-7 years, it should.

What is an “audit” of our governing documents?

An “audit” of your documents is an in-depth review by your HOA’s board of directors in conjunction with your association attorney.  The Board reviews each document noting any sections that lack clarity, are no longer enforced, appear to not apply to your community, protect a long-gone developer, or do not provide the association with adequate remedies.  The Board prepares a list of concerns or issues facing the community, such as homes that are not being maintained, large amounts of delinquent assessments, or enforcement capabilities of the association.  The Board provides this information to the association attorney.

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