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

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 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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HOA Case Study: A Board’s statements or conduct may establish the enforceability of its governing documents

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

An article in the Washington Post discussed a pending case in the Virginia Supreme Court regarding a dispute between property owners and a community association regarding the owners’ operation of a vineyard and retail store on their property. In an unpublished Order, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld a Fauquier County jury verdict for the property owners that had been set aside by the trial court.

Although unpublished orders do not have “precedential value or . . . significance for the law or legal system,” this case does provide us with a look at how difficult it can be for community associations to interpret their governing documents and also how a board’s previous actions may have an effect upon future enforcement of the community’s declarations and covenants. This blog post will review the facts of that case and its applicability to your HOA.

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Attorney-Client Privilege: What is it and how do you protect it?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

The attorney-client privilege permits confidential communication between an attorney and her client.  The objective is to encourage open communication, which permits an attorney to provide thorough, competent and complete advice.  Generally speaking, only a client can waive the privilege, but as found by the Virginia Supreme Court in Walton v. Mid-Atlantic Spine Specialist, PC, et al., a client’s inadvertent disclosure of a privileged communication may operate as a waiver of the attorney-client privilege.

In this Williamsburg medical malpractice case, a defendant doctor wrote a letter to his attorney calling into question his medical diagnosis he gave to his patient. The doctor kept this letter in a separate notebook. During discovery the defendant medical practice used a third party service to copy document requests. The letter was provided inadvertently to the plaintiff.

Although the defendant claimed that he did not produce the letter or permit anyone else to produce the letter, the Court found that the defendant did not take adequate protection to protect the letter. The Court noted that the notebook in which the letter was found was not marked as confidential or privileged. Furthermore, the Court held that the client did not take prompt action following disclosure.

The Virginia Supreme Court considered five main factors in determining whether the inadvertent disclosure waived the client’s privilege.  The Court looked at:  (1) the reasonableness of the precautions to prevent inadvertent disclosures, (2) the time taken to rectify the error, (3) the scope of discovery, (4) the extent of the disclosure, and (5) whether the party asserting the claim of privilege or protection for the communication has used its unavailability for misleading or otherwise improper or overreaching purposes in the litigation making it unfair to allow the party to invoke confidentiality under the circumstances.

As a start, clients should maintain attorney-client privileged communications in a separate file or notebook and clearly mark the file or notebook and each communication as “CONFIDENTIAL-ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATION.”  Then, if an inadvertent disclosure is made, the client should contact her attorney as soon as possible to determine a plan of action to restore the attorney-client privilege.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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What can an HOA Board do if members question whether the President acted properly?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In General Interest | No Comments

Susan Tarley answered a question that was published in the March/April 2013 issue of the Common Ground, the Community Association Institute’s Magazine for Community Association Leaders. Here is the question and answer.

Question

Our bylaws state that no reimbursement shall be given for services rendered by any board member unless voted and agreed on amongst the board members. I am a board member, and our association president has submitted bills totaling more than $600 to our management company without board approval and has been paid. A review of the past years minutes indicate no such vote was taken. We feel the president has his own monetary agenda and does not care about our community. I understand we can file a petition with 67% of the unit owners signing to have him removed, but we just want our money. What can we do?

Williamsburg Virginia HOA Lawyers

Board of Directors

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 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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Can I cut down my neighbor’s tree when its branches overhang my property?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Common Interest Community, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | 4 Comments

In our ever crowding residential areas, more of us experience the situation in which the limbs of a neighbor’s tree overhang our property line. Most of the time, these limbs do not pose us any concern, but questions do arise as to whether we have the right to prune our neighbor’s trees. In the past,the Virginia rule has been that you could trim the branches of your neighbor’s tree up to your property line. However, the Virginia Supreme Court expanded that long-standing rule when it decided that an owner whose property was damaged by the root system of a neighbor’s tree may be entitled to more relief than simply cutting back the roots and overhanging branches to the property line.

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Do the Virginia Rules of Evidence change settlement negotiations and mediations?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Construction litigation, HOA litigation, Mediation, Real Estate Litigation | No Comments

Virginia’s new codified Rules of Evidence became effective on July 1, 2012. In an article in Virginia Lawyers Weekly, five of the rules were highlighted. One of those highlighted rules was Rule 2:408, “Compromise and Offers to Compromise.” The terms of this rule differ from the terms of the Federal Rule of Evidence 408, but those differences will not be explored in this post. Instead, this blog post will review Virginia Rule of Evidence 2:408, and its possible implications for settlement discussions and mediation.

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Benefits of HOAs Part 2: How is Covenant Enforcement Good for Owners?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

The enforcement of covenants, conditions, and restrictions (“CC&R’s”) is among the most criticized of the duties performed by the Board of Directors of community associations, but is also the most important responsibility. CC&R’s govern many activities in a community including house designs, parking regulations, maintenance and repair of the common areas, and collection of assessments. Sensational “Gotcha” type news stories highlight enforcement practices of some associations, which contribute to a false perception that associations in general lack common sense. However, studies repeatedly show that the overwhelming majority of people  living in neighborhoods governed by HOAs believe that the rules in their communities benefit them.

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HOAs – What are your Governing Documents?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Common Interest Community, Contributors, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments


It’s the beginning of a new year so let’s start with some basic nuts and bolts information regarding homeowners associations. We’ll begin this series of blog articles with a discussion of the phrase “Governing Documents” which is used by board members, managers and homeowners.

What are the Governing Documents? Continue reading “HOAs – What are your Governing Documents?”

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 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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