My Commercial Tenant is gone . . . should I re-enter the Property?

October 30, 2014 on 1:04 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, John Tarley, Land Use Planning, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Sometimes commercial tenants, unable to stay current with their lease obligations, decide to close up shop and abandon their leased premises. In those circumstances, commercial landlords need to know their options. This blog post discusses a commercial landlord’s options when a commercial tenant abandons its lease.

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Virginia Supreme Court upholds arbitration award granted to homeowners who sued their HOA

October 30, 2014 on 1:04 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

It is relatively routine for developers or “declarants” to include arbitration provisions into the declaration of restrictive covenants recorded to establish a common interest community. Generally, arbitration clauses are preferred by developers for a variety of reasons including avoiding a jury and having a say in the choice of the fact-finder. However, those decisions made by the developers have long lasting effects upon homeowner boards following transition, because it is difficult for a board to effect a change in the documents.

 

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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 1:04 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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What Should You Expect From Your Attorney?

October 30, 2014 on 1:04 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, HOA, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

I read a recent article in the ABA Journal that differentiated between the teaching of “issue spotting” versus “problem solving” in law schools. This article strikes at the core of the services we provide as attorneys. We believe firmly that although it is our responsibility to help identify potential issues that you may face, our legal advice is fully realized when we help you solve your problems.

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HOAs, ADA, and FHA: regulating “Service or Assistance Animals”

October 30, 2014 on 1:04 pm | In General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Recent amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) regulations limit the definition of “service animal” to any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The amendments specify that providing “emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks” under the new definition.

On the other hand, if your situation is not an ADA issue but rather a Fair Housing issue, a recent memo clarifies that the new definition is not applicable to the Fair Housing Act (the “FHA”). The FHA does not contain a specific definition of “service animal.” Under the FHA, animals that provide emotional support have, in certain instances, been recognized as necessary assistance animals as a reasonable accommodation. The 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.


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Can your business enforce an employee noncompete agreement?

October 30, 2014 on 1:04 pm | In Business Planning, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson | No Comments

The analysis of the enforceability of noncompete agreements begins with the question “How did the covenant not to compete arise?”  Employee covenants not to compete generally arise in one of two ways:  1) solely as a result of employment; and 2) arising as ancillary to another agreement, such as an agreement to purchase the prospective employee’s business.

 

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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:04 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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Get your fence off my property!

October 30, 2014 on 1:04 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Clients sometimes come to us with disputes regarding real estate litigation matters involving boundary line and easement encroachments. We provide legal advice and counsel, trying to balance your real estate rights with neighborly harmony, always looking to avoid a lawsuit when possible.

Easements provide a broad range of legal rights and obligations. In a fairly recent Virginia Supreme Court case, Snead v. C&S Properties Holding Company, a landowner blocked access to a validly recorded easement. The easement holder filed a lawsuit, asking the court to order the obstruction removed. The Virginia Supreme Court ordered the fence removed, concluding that “a significant portion of the easement would be rendered unusable for ingress and egress if injunctive relief were denied.”

Common Interest Communities

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Arbitration instead of Court? Be careful what you ask for

October 30, 2014 on 1:04 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Over the past 15 years or so, “arbitration” provisions have appeared with increasing frequency in a wide variety of contracts. For example, declarations of covenants and restrictions recorded for homeowners associations, construction contracts, employment contracts, and commercial leases all may contain arbitration clauses. Arbitration may be a good idea, but you should know what “arbitration” means before you agree to be bound by such a provision.

Many people confuse the terms “mediation” and “arbitration.” Mediation refers to a process whereby a third-party helps facilitate a negotiated settlement between two or more parties. A mediator does not make decisions, does not take evidence, and does not conduct hearings. Parties simply negotiate and the mediator helps foster those negotiations.

Conversely, arbitrations are conducted like regular trials, with a judge-like arbitrator (or arbitrators) making a final decision based upon the evidence presented, and hopefully the law of your jurisdiction. Appeals of an arbitrator’s decision are virtually nonexistent.

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Estate Administration: Will Contests and Testamentary Capacity

October 30, 2014 on 1:04 pm | In Estate Administration | No Comments

Readers of our website may notice that we list “Estate Administration” as an area of our practice. We assist executors of wills, or personal representatives of estates to properly dispose of a decedent’s assets.

Occasionally, we get involved in cases in which a party contests a decedent’s Will that has been probated with the court. Typically, that person will claim that another Will should be considered the proper Will because the most recent Will was either

  • made when the decedent lacked the mental capacity at the time the Will was made, or
  • the most recent Will was made under the undue influence by a person who held a position of trust and confidence with the decedent.

 Last Will & Testament

In the case of Weedon v. Weedon, an older woman with a diagnosis of multiple myeloma revised her Will in 2007. Prior to surgery in 2008, she decided to revise her Will again. As part of the revisions, the testatrix decided to bequest all of her real property to just one of her five children (who had also taken the role of caregiver for her mother). Four days after signing the new Will (and three days after surgery), the decedent died. After the will was probated, the remaining four children sued their sister seeking an order that either their mother lacked the mental capacity to make the revised Will; or that the revised Will was made as a result of their sister’s undue influence.

The King George Circuit Court determined that the decedent lacked the testamentary capacity when she executed the Will and that the Will was the result of undue influence, but the Virginia Supreme Court reversed. In this blog post, we examine the direction given by the Virginia Supreme Court in determining whether a decedent had the mental capacity at the time the Will was made.

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