Pesticides, Fungicides, and Herbicides: Why do Virginia HOAs need to know the difference?

October 30, 2014 on 1:09 pm | In HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

There are many issues that confront your common interest community as its board of directors and management company work hard to maintain the HOA. One issue that has recently come up is the need to be knowledgeable about the chemicals an HOA applies to its common areas.

The Property Owners’ Association Act in Virginia Code § 55-510.3 and the Condominium Act in Virginia Code § 55-79.80:01 both require that an association post notice of all applications of pesticide in or upon the common areas/elements. This notice must be provided by conspicuous signs placed in or upon the area where the pesticide will be applied, at least 48 hours prior to application. This blog post analyzes one particular question that an association should consider when applying chemicals to its common areas: What is a pesticide?

HOAs and pesticides

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What happens if a tree falls from my property onto a public highway causing damage?

October 30, 2014 on 1:09 pm | 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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When is a “Contract” not a Contract?

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 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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Benefits of HOAs Part 3: The Importance of Assessments to your Community

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

To many homeowners, the assessments they pay to their homeowners or condominium association are just one more bill each month. Too often, owners don’t realize the benefits they get in exchange for these assessments. Some owners even go so far as to stop paying their assessments. A careful review of your association’s budget would show that the benefits for owners that come from their assessment payments far surpass the cost of the assessment. But when an owner chooses not to pay, everyone in the community bears the consequences.

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Can HOAs Prohibit Owners From Flying the American Flag?

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 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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Small Business Break-Ups – The High Cost of Litigating a Forced Separation

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

A recent Virginia Supreme Court Case, Cattano v. Bragg, illustrates two points we have made time and time again: 1) Make sure your small business is prepared for an eventual “divorce” between the shareholders; and 2) Litigation is very, very expensive.

In this blog post we will review the Supreme Court’s decision and provide some tips for your small business so that you can avoid the calamity that occurred in this case, which included an attorneys’ fee award of over $260,000 for the prevailing party.

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Can an HOA prohibit the posting of political signs?

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Land Use Planning, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Well, it’s that time of year when signs start popping up in neighborhoods as election day draws near. In neighborhoods governed by a homeowner or condominium association, boards of directors are sometimes asked to enforce sign restrictions when one neighbor complains about another’s political sign (and probably, the neighbor’s choice of candidate).

A person’s first response typically is “I have the right to free speech and you can’t stop me from posting my political sign on my property!” However, is that the end of the discussion? This blog post reviews a community association’s rights and responsibilities regarding political signs.

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Getting rid of an LLC member in your business can be difficult without an effective operating agreement

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

It may seem hard to believe, but there’s a chance you and your fellow members in your limited liability company may not always get along. In fact, the relationship may get to the point where the majority of the members in the LLC wants to expel a member. As Lee Corso says frequently on ESPN Gameday, “Not so fast, my friend.”

 

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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 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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Arbitration in debt collection: FTC says it’s a broken system

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 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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