Comprehensive and Informative Commentary on State and Federal Legal Matters
While the last year has been rough on homeowners state-wide, the last few months have been great for Virginians battling their Homeowners Association (HOA) or Condominium Owners Association (COA). Since July, Virginia courts have handed down not 1 but 2 rulings that limit the power of HOAs an COAs in the Commonwealth. In the first of these decisions, the court found that a COA (and, by inference, a HOA) “does not have authority under [any measure]” to assess more than $20,000 in fines against someone who fails to properly submit required paperwork. While this small stipulation may seem irrelevant or futile to many, I found it noteworthy for one major reason: the court’s decision strikes at the fundamental principles that control HOAs and COAS. Through its ruling, the court reminds HOAs and COAs that their powers are expressly limited by statute and then can do nothing more than what has been granted to them by such statutes. In a world where many HOAs and COAs lose sight of their founding purpose, blatantly overstepping their bounds by trying to enforce outrageous rules, it is incumbent upon homeowners to remember that they hold the rights, not the associations.
Perhaps more importantly though, the Circuit Court continued its defense of homeowners with a ruling reported this past week. As was reported by The Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly, a circuit court judge recently ruled that homeowners can to seek reimbursement for attorney’s fees if they are successful in suing their HOA. Given how many people have expressed discontent with the actions (or non-actions) of their HOA these days, this ruling stands as a solid victory for disgruntled homeowners in the Commonwealth.
In this particular case, Farran Olde Belhaven Towne Owner’s Ass’n, the homeowners pursued a suit against their HOA for a number of grievances, the list of which included allegations that the HOA mismanaged the finances set aside for community betterment and that it arbitrarily denied homeowner’s request to build a deck. In the end, the court agreed with the owners and found in their favor. In response, the HOA argued that, though it had lost the suit, it was not required to reimburse the owners for the legal fees they incurred in defending their rights in court. In fact, the HOA asserted that Virginia Code § 55-515 protected it from that responsibility because it was not the HOA, but rather the owners, that brought the suit to begin with. Ultimately, it was this assertion that the Circuit Court found issue with. Stating that its decision was supported by the Supreme Court case of White v. Boundary Ass’n 271 Va. 50 (624 S.E.2d 5), the court upheld the homeowners right to recover the money spent in their suit against the HOA.
To anyone that has dealt with a power-hungry HOA or COA that routinely oversteps its bounds, the court’s recent rulings should serve as a reminder that you have an outlet to hem these actions in. One should remember that, despite their best efforts, HOAs and COAs have limited power and must act strictly in accordance with the code sections establishing them. These entities are constantly overstepping their bounds and these cases serve as a reminder that, when push comes to shove, courts are clear in enforcing these limited powers.
Do you have a legitamate grieveance against your Home Owners Association or Condominium Owners Association? If so, feel free to contact Westlake Legal to schedule a consultation.