Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 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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HOAs and the Power to Adopt Rules and Regulations: Is it more limited than we think?

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Community Associations that have adopted rules and regulations that permit the association to avail itself of the enforcement capabilities found in Va. Code Ann. § 55-79.80:2 or § 55-513(B) should have counsel review the governing documents or condominium instruments, as applicable, in light of an unpublished Virginia Supreme Court order in Shadowood Condominium Association et al., v. Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority. In Shadowood, the Court determined that community associations do not have the authority to impose charges or suspend owner’s rights unless the authority is specifically granted in the condominium instruments or governing documents. This blog post analyzes that Court order.

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Emails from work computer can waive rights to privileged communications

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Business Planning, Construction litigation, General Interest, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation | No Comments

We have written on the issues that arise when employees use their work computer for personal business. In that blog article, we referred to a California case in which an appellate court ruled that an employee’s emails to her attorney were not protected by the attorney-client privilege because the company had a written policy that informed employees that computers were not to be used for personal matters, that emails could be monitored to ensure that employees complied with the policy, and that employees should not expect any privacy in the use of their computers.

In local news, former Delegate Phil Hamilton raised a “marital privilege” objection to the use at trial of emails he sent to his wife. Certain communications to and from a spouse can be protected from disclosure. There were complicating factors to this case’s analysis.

 

Email

 

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2015 General Assembly Update for Virginia Community Associations

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In HOA, HOA litigation, Land Use Planning, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on 2015 General Assembly Update for Virginia Community Associations

The legislation that passed the 2015 General Assembly Session is mostly helpful to Virginia HOAs–clarifying issues created by some legislation, and providing solutions for owner apathy and bank foreclosure problems for associations.

Virginia General Assembly - Legislation

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The Rule of Caveat Emptor in the Sale of Real Estate vs. a Seller’s Duty to Disclose

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Construction litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Simply stated, caveat emptor means “let the buyer take care,” or even more plainly stated: “Buyer beware.” In real estate matters, buyers are warned that they are to “exercise ordinary care in inspecting the condition of property.” Therefore, buyers are generally urged to obtain a home inspection and take such other care prior to closing on their real estate purchase. Otherwise, the buyers may not have any relief if they find adverse conditions after taking possession.

A case arising out of Charlottesville highlights the obligations of the buyers and the sellers in the purchase of a home. In that case, the seller of the home was also a licensed real estate agent, which added another complication regarding the duty to disclose. This blog posts analyzes that court decision, which offers warnings to buyers and sellers of real estate, as well as to licensed real estate agents.

 

 

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Employee Non-Competes: Why Must Prospective Employers Be Wary?

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, General Interest, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We have written previously about employee “non-competes” (a/k/a covenants not to compete or non-competition agreements). You may have come across them in your own business, either by requiring them of your own employees or seeking to hire someone subject to a non-compete.   However, the area of law surrounding non-competition agreements can be tricky, and a new decision has added to the intrigue.

In DePuy Synthes Sales, Inc. v. Jones, the Eastern District of Virginia denied two motions to dismiss filed by the new employers of employees governed by non-compete agreements. DePuy employed two salespersons pursuant to employment agreements that contained non-compete provisions. They eventually left DePuy and began working for a competitor, Sky Surgical. DePuy sued the employees and Sky Surgical. This blog post examines the tortious interference of employment contract claim made by DePuy against the new employer, Sky Surgical.

employee noncompete agreement

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How does our HOA hire a Reserve Study specialist? (Part 3 of a 3 part series on Reserves)

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Although Virginia law does not address who can perform a reserve study, it is clearly in the best interest of an association to hire a credentialed professional to conduct a reserve study for the community. Professionals who provide reserve studies include licensed Professional Engineers (PE), Architects (AIA and/or RA) and experts such as a Reserve Specialist (RS) or Professional Reserve Analyst (PRA).


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What does it mean to be on the Board of Directors of your HOA? Fiduciary Duties (Part 1 of a series)

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, HOA, Merger & Acquisition, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Board members are told that they have fiduciary duties to the community association, but what does that really mean?  Fiduciary duties arise because the members of the association entrust a board member to act in the best interest of the association when handling the association’s business.

There are three components that are important to understand fiduciary duty.  First, the Virginia Code, at § 13.1-870, imposes on directors a requirement that a director exercise her duties in good faith and in the best interest of the association.  This requirement is the so-called “business judgment” rule. Second, Virginia case law imposes duty of care that requires a board member to act as a reasonable person would under similar circumstances.  Third, Virginia case law imposes a duty of loyalty that requires a board member to put the association before any personal interest.  These last two duties are referred to as “common law” duties. Continue reading “What does it mean to be on the Board of Directors of your HOA? Fiduciary Duties (Part 1 of a series)”

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Get your fence off my property!

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 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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A New Twist on Identity Theft and Fraud: How can Realtors, Lenders, Title Companies and Law Firms Protect Your Clients and Yourselves?

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In General Interest, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

A case out of Virginia Beach underscores the deviousness of those who engage in identity theft. As reported in Virginia Lawyers Weekly, Guy Gugliotta owned two lots in Virginia Beach. A local realty company maintained contact with Gugliotta via mail in case he was interested in selling the lots. In 2012 someone purporting to be Gugliotta notified the tax assessors office to change the mailing address for tax bills. Then they notified the realty company that they had decided to sell the lots. The lots were listed for sale and in August, a purchaser made an offer.

The seller documents were handled via mail with the fraudulent seller executing documents in Florida and sending them to the closing agent. Deeds to transfer property require that the seller’s signature be notarized so surely this was the end of the road for the fraudster.

But no, not only did the thief take the identity of the owner; he also took the identity of a notary public in Florida. The notary public declared under oath that it was not his signature and that he had never notarized the documents.

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