Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:17 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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General Partnerships, The Way To Go . . . Financially Under

October 30, 2014 on 1:17 pm | In Business Planning, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson | No Comments

 

Though the majority of businesses in the United States are sole proprietorships, those of you who read an earlier post know that I recommend, for a myriad of good reasons, that an entity of some kind be placed between a person doing business and the rest of the world. Find an experienced business attorney to help establish your business entity.

In this post, I address briefly the general partnership form of business entity, the only form I consider more dangerous to the financial health of an individual than the sole proprietorship.  Why, you ask?  Because with the sole proprietorship, the sole proprietor is personally liable for the acts of the sole proprietor, the business and the business employees.  In the general partnership, the partners are personally liable for the acts of the business, the employees and each other.  What partners do can be fairly unpredictable, like contracting to purchase or lease things that cannot possibly be paid for out of the profits of the business, or like contracting to do that which cannot possibly be done profitably.

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Make sure HOA Document Amendments are properly certified

October 30, 2014 on 1:17 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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Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite. . .Your Condominium Neighbor!

October 30, 2014 on 1:17 pm | In Common Interest Community, Contributors, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

When water leaks from one condominium into another, determining the responsible party is usually not too difficult.  But what about when the hazard isn’t water, but bed bugs, parasitic insects of the cimicid family that feed exclusively on blood and often take up residence nearby or inside of beds, bedding and/or other sleep areas, who is responsible then? This blog post will review some of the issues regarding condos and bedbugs.

Bedbugs and Condos

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Homeowner cannot be forced to join a voluntary HOA

October 30, 2014 on 1:16 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

In a case from the Chesterfield Circuit Court, the circuit court judge determined that a homeowner could not be forced to pay association dues to a voluntary association. This result is not surprising.


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

October 30, 2014 on 1:16 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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“Aging In Place” – How can HOAs address aging communities?

October 30, 2014 on 1:16 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, Real Estate Strategies, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

When we think of the challenges of overseeing homeowners associations, we might think of overgrown lawns, late assessment payments, and aggressive pets.  But another challenge has been waiting in the wings:  the aging of America’s “baby boomer” generation, many of whom are choosing to live out their golden years in their homes.  This rising trend is presenting new and unique challenges for Community Associations.  It is the wave of the future and the future is now.

Homeowner Association

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:16 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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Airbnb and VRBO and your Home: Regulating The Shared Economy

October 30, 2014 on 1:16 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, Real Estate Strategies, Scott Foster, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on Airbnb and VRBO and your Home: Regulating The Shared Economy

The “Shared Economy”— where economic and social activity occurs directly between individuals with the help of an online format— is reshaping our national economy. Today we can easily monetize everyday assets, including your car and home, in ways that were previously impossible.

This innovation and advancement has not occurred without growing pains, many of which have occurred in the context of real estate. Airbnb, FlipKey, HomeAway, VRBO, and others have made it relatively simple to use your house, apartment or condo as a source of income, by renting all or part of it, to temporary or transient guests.

VRBO Airbnb

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:16 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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