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    The Greater Williamsburg area is an exciting place to live and work, especially because of the large number of entrepreneurs who have built businesses from the ground up. These entrepreneurs have taken their passion and made it their profession. Many of us want to take that step. Before you begin, you need to think of the type of business entity you want to form. Our attorneys have extensive business experience, from small one-person companies to publicly traded major corporations. Our attorneys are among the leaders in Virginia in the representation of Common Interest Communities. These communities are generally referred to as "homeowners associations," or "HOAs," and "condominium associations." In the greater Williamsburg area alone, we provide legal assistance to nearly 100 associations. Our attorneys have successfully prosecuted and defended a wide array of civil disputes involving community association covenant enforcement, commercial transactions, construction disputes, contracts, real estate matters, boundary line and easement disputes, employment matters, antitrust litigation, copyright violations, administrative proceedings, and estate issues. Real Estate law encompasses a wide variety of matters, and our attorneys have vast experience to assist you. Whether you need assistance with a commercial or residential closing, or you have questions relating to residential or commercial leasing, we provide experienced advice and counsel to our clients. Zoning law can be a complicated maze of statutes and ordinances. We have ample experience in successful applications for rezoning, variance, and special use permit requests. Finally, commercial and residential construction provide special challenges with respect to financing issues and the construction process. We serve as counsel to various financial institutions.

Holiday Lights and your HOA

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on Holiday Lights and your HOA
Happy Holidays

The Virginia Supreme Court has issued another ruling specifying the limitations of homeowners associations to enact guidelines, rules, and regulations that exceed the scope of their authority.

We had written previously about attempts by HOAs to regulate holiday decorations. The first item on our suggested checklist to assist homeowners association was “Does the Board have the authority to regulate holiday decorations? If not, your inquiry stops here.” As it turns out, that is the basis for the Court’s decision in Sainani v. Belmont Glen Homeowners Association.

In Sainani, the association adopted guidelines for “Seasonal Holiday Decorations” (the “Guidelines”) to regulate various aspects of homeowners’ display of exterior lighting. The trial court found that the homeowners violated the Guidelines by having the “lights . . . on 24/7” for “at least 300 days a year.”

On appeal, the homeowners argued that the Guidelines exceeded the HOA’s authority and were unenforceable. The Virginia Supreme Court agreed. In essence, the Court specifically stated that “None of the covenants in the amended declaration can be construed to authorize the seasonal guidelines, and thus, the seasonal guidelines exceed the scope of the HOA’s authority.”

As we wrote in another blog post analyzing an unpublished order from the Virginia Supreme Court in the case of Shadowood Condominium Association et al., v. Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority, “Unless the . . . governing documents specifically permit the common interest community to impose the charges and/or suspension of rights for violations of the documents . . . it is likely that a court may find against the association where the owner contests such actions.” The Sainani case will have ramifications for HOAs who do not follow those guidelines.

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Email scams (continued)

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In General Interest, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We have previously written a blog piece warning of increased email scam activity and sophistication. Expect more. Another victim of these email scams has come to light, and this victim was a lawyer. An article in Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly told the story of a lawyer victim of a successful email scam. This blog post provides another warning against these scams.

Email

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Benefits of HOAs Part 3: The Importance of Assessments to your Community

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 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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Make sure HOA Document Amendments are properly certified

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on Make sure HOA Document Amendments are properly certified

The Virginia Supreme Court’s opinion in Tvardek, et al v. Powhatan Village Homeowners Association, Inc. highlights how critical it is to not only amend your HOA documents in compliance with the law and your existing documents, but to make sure that the amended document that gets recorded properly memorializes that you did so.

The Tvardeks filed a declaratory judgment action in 2013 against Powhatan Village Homeowners Association, Inc. (“Powhatan Village”) to challenge a 2008 amendment to the association covenants that included a provision restricting the owners’ ability to rent their homes. Powhatan Village filed a special plea in bar requesting dismissal of the action as untimely citing the one-year statute of limitations in Va. Code Ann. § 55-515.1(E). Declining to hear any evidence, the Circuit Court made a decision on the pleadings and argument of counsel, ruling in favor of Powhatan Village’s argument that the claim was time-barred. The Circuit Court also awarded Powhatan Village $12,000 in attorney fees.

The Tvardeks appealed the case. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed the Circuit Court’s ruling, determining that the case was not barred by the one-year statute of limitations. The attorney fee award was also reversed.

Williamsburg Courthouse

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Benefits of Community Associations Part 1: Are HOAs really as bad as some portray?

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

 

Community Associations have been the subject of a lot of bad press lately. An Associated Press article is typical of news reports that lambast associations. The article tells about a 55-and-older condo complex in Florida. According to the article, units in the Inlet House condo complex used to be worth $79,000, but sold for as little as $3,000 after rats started chewing through toilet seats and sewage started leaking from the ceiling. The article goes on to vilify the condo association for levying a $6,000 special assessment on residents and then foreclosing on owners who don’t pay their dues.

In its eagerness to blame the condo association for the woes of these senior citizens, the article and many blogs pointing out the “abuses of HOAs” miss an important point: the association may be the only group really looking out for the interests of the owners. Let’s look at what the article does not allege: it does not allege that the Association was responsible for the rat infestation or the sewage leak and it does not allege that the Association could have prevented the housing meltdown that contributed to the decline in property values.

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Using your business’ computer to email your attorney may be a bad idea

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Email

Well, we have written about protecting the attorney-client privilege and about safe emailing tips when emailing your attorney. Although we thought we had it pretty well covered, a recent decision from a California appellate has given us something more to think about.
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Another Thanks to Construction Law Musings – HOAs and Construction Defects

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Richmond Construction Law attorney Chris Hill, my friend and colleague, permitted me another opportunity to blog at his award-winning blog Construction Law Musings. Chris is an outstanding Virginia attorney, and his blog is a great source of information on construction law, including the intricacies of mechanic’s liens. You can also follow him on Twitter, @ConstructionLaw.

Chris has a regular feature called “Guest Post Friday” in which he invites other bloggers to contribute to his Musings. For this blog, we wrote a post exploring the statutory warranties, provided in Va. Code § 55-79.79 of the Condominium Act, that require the Declarant to warrant “all of the common elements for two years.”

Here’s a brief excerpt of the post:

When either a commercial or residential condominium development nears the time of automatic transition, the developer and the owners face many challenges. The developer, or “Declarant,” must transfer responsibility for management, enforcement of the Condominium Instruments, and finances, amongst other responsibilities, to the new owner-controlled Board of Directors. With the pending departure of the Declarant, owners can become concerned about possible construction defects with the common elements. This blog post discusses the process and responsibilities under the statutory warranties provided by the Virginia Condominium Act.

Read the complete blog at Construction Law Musings, as well as many other informative posts on Chris’ outstanding blog. Thanks again, Chris!

Thank you

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 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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Unauthorized Practice of Law: When unlicensed attorneys serve as HOA board members

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Merger & Acquisition, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

An article in the Virginia Gazette featured a story regarding the indictment of a local attorney for the unauthorized practice of law; a criminal charge classified as a class 1 misdemeanor. Although those allegations did not involve a homeowner association, it highlights a recurring issue for volunteer boards of directors for many organizations including homeowner associations and not-for-profit organizations on which attorneys serve. This article focuses on those issues facing boards for homeowner associations (“HOAs”) but the issues are similar for other volunteer boards of directors.

 

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Should I incorporate my business?

October 30, 2014 on 1:35 pm | In Business Planning, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson | No Comments

Frequently, budding entrepreneurs merely evolve into business without giving it the upfront thought the transition deserves.  They become what are usually known as “sole proprietors” operating “sole proprietorships,” or one-man/woman businesses.

Business Deal

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