HOAs and Management Companies – Does your contract say what you think it says?

October 30, 2014 on 1:22 pm | In General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Many boards of directors for community associations engage management companies to help the board operate their community. These relationships arise from written contracts negotiated by the parties. It is essential that homeowners’ associations and management companies have their contracts reviewed by their experienced HOA attorney.

When determining the terms of a contract, Virginia courts employ what is known as the “plain meaning” doctrine. This doctrine basically means that when an agreement is clear, a court will look to the ordinary meaning of the words of the contract itself. Consequently, the parties need to ensure that all of the terms they believe are part of an agreement are in the written contract itself.

A recent Virginia Supreme Court case presents a prime example of why it is important to have your association attorney review contracts between community associations and management companies. Continue reading “HOAs and Management Companies – Does your contract say what you think it says?”

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Stop in the name of the…homeowner association! – Can private HOA security forces pull you over?

October 30, 2014 on 1:22 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Virginia’s Attorney General, Mark R. Herring, published an advisory opinion concerning private security forces used by community associations (the “Opinion”). These security forces often act as quasi-police departments and help relieve localities by providing routine patrols in private communities. In the Williamsburg area, the local police often defer to HOA security forces for regular patrols, and health and safety checks. When it comes to more serious police action, like issuing traffic tickets and arresting homeowners, the roles and authority of HOA security forces becomes less clear. This blog post discusses the role of private security forces in homeowners’ associations and the Opinion that addresses some of these concerns.

MC900283147

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:22 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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Zoning and “Adaptive Reuse” – What does that actually mean?

October 30, 2014 on 1:22 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, Land Use Planning, Real Estate Strategies, Zoning | No Comments
Our Summer Associate for 2012 is Scott Foster, a rising second-year law student at the William & Mary Law School. Weeks before his undergraduate graduation from William & Mary, Scott became the first person ever elected to the Williamsburg City Council, while still a William & Mary studentScott still serves on the City Council while attending law school and working for us. This blog post is Scott’s first for our firm.

While growing up in western Virginia, one of my favorite restaurants was in a converted train depot. On several occasions my parents walked me through the tobacco warehouses in Farmville, Virginia filled with fine furniture and rugs. There was even a bed and breakfast nearby with rooms in a grain silo. Although I did not realize it at the time, these businesses were examples of “adaptive reuse.”

DOG Street Pub, the former SunTrust Bank

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How is starting a business like getting married?

October 30, 2014 on 1:22 pm | In Business Planning, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson | No Comments

I have often been struck by how much business counseling and marriage counseling can be alike.  “He said he was really good at marketing and was going to handle all the sales.  We haven’t seen a worthwhile sale in months.  All he does is drive around, I GUESS making sales calls, but mostly just spending money.”  “She said she was going to keep the books and handle the personnel issues.  I didn’t know that meant a row of shoe-boxes full of receipts and employee turnover at seventy percent!  This place is a disaster!”  “Turnover is at seventy percent because we don’t have enough sales to keep anyone employed.  If you did your job, then maybe I could do mine.”

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

Starting a Business

He said, she said.  And so it goes.  It is estimated that fifty-five percent of all first marriages fail and approximately 56% of new businesses fail within four years.  Here are some of the reasons most often given for start-up business failures.

 

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Smile! You’re on HOA Meeting Camera! Can I videotape my HOA meeting?

October 30, 2014 on 1:22 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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When might a Virginia business be liable for unemployment compensation?

October 30, 2014 on 1:22 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition | No Comments

In the Greater Williamsburg area, many small businesses face seasonal layoffs when the summer tourism season ends. For small businesses, these layoffs lead to questions regarding unemployment compensation. In this blog post, we will discuss the issue of when an employer can be liable for the unemployment compensation for a terminated employee.

 

Generally speaking, an employee terminated by you may be otherwise eligible for unemployment benefits, chargeable to your company if:

The basic qualifications for unemployment compensation are:

Once you have been determined to be the “employer” liable for unemployment compensation, you are responsible for all the benefits payable to that former employee. Unless extended benefits have been approved, the maximum benefit is 26 times the weekly benefits payable to the employee.

The weekly benefits are found in a table at Virginia Code § 60.1-602. This table is regularly updated, it tells you how much a person would receive per week in unemployment, based upon the amount they made when employed. For example, if a person made $6,300 in the prior twelve weeks when employed, he would receive $125 per week in unemployment, and a total of $3,250, if he were employed for the entire 26-week period.

The possibility of being liable for unemployment compensation worries many small business owners. Discuss the issue with your business attorney so that you can plan properly for your employment needs.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

 

jt photo 150x150 Using a company computer to email your attorney may be a bad idea

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Have You Updated Your HOA Management Contract Lately?

October 30, 2014 on 1:21 pm | In Business Law, Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Many of us are so busy in performing the work that we are hired to do that we often neglect the housekeeping we should do for our businesses. Management agreements with community associations may fall into this category. As with many agreements in which sections are revised but the whole contract is not reviewed, management agreements can take on a life of their own as they are tweaked here and there. In this blog, we discuss the need to take time to have your forms and contracts reviewed to ensure that your management company is protected by the agreement, that it reflects current law, and that it comports to any required regulations.

 Contract

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Preserve your friendships when borrowing or lending with friends or family – Document your transactions

October 30, 2014 on 1:21 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, General Interest | No Comments

Many small businesses rely upon loans from friends and family for startup funds, for business expansions, or to support existing operations. Many times, these loans are made upon an oral agreement. As we have written previously, although oral agreements can be enforceable, without a writing, the terms of the agreements can be difficult to prove. In this blog post, we will describe other problems with informal lending transactions between family and friends.

contract, borrow money

In a study entitled “Lenders’ Blind Trust and Borrowers’ Blind Spots: A Descriptive Investigation of Personal Loans,” researchers outlined many of the difficulties of maintaining a lender-borrower relationship  between friends and family. In many “informal” lending relationships, the borrowers and the lenders remember the transactions differently. This “self-serving bias” can lead to problems. For example, borrowers may believe that the “loan” was a “gift,” or although agreeing that the transaction was a “loan,” may believe they paid off the loan. On the other hand, the lenders may feel angry when the “loan” is not repaid, especially when the borrower never raises the issue of repayment.

The study documented these differences between borrowers and lenders:

 Many borrowers thought the idea for the loan originated with the lender, not themselves, although the lenders thought otherwise;

 Borrowers reported far fewer delinquent loans than lenders;

 Borrowers were fairly confident they would eventually repay the loan, but lenders thought even one missed payment probably meant the loan would never be paid off;

 Delinquent borrowers “are much more likely to report feeling guilty, and also strangely, relieved and happy. Lenders associated with delinquent loans, in contrast, are much more likely to report feeling angry.”

Even though banks are flush with cash to lend, you may not qualify for a loan, or the bank’s terms may be too onerous. Consequently, family and friends are natural sources of funds for startup funds or for operating capital. However, as the proverb says,”Before borrowing money from a friend, decide which you need most.” Therefore, if you must borrow from friends or family, it is a small price to pay to perserve your personal relationships to have your business attorney draft the appropriate loan documents, including a promissory note, so that everybody knows the expectations of the transaction. Taking this step at a relatively small price can save your friendships.

Tarley Robinson, PLC,  Williamsburg, VA

Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

 

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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?

October 30, 2014 on 1:21 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

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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