The Virginia Verdict Review

Comprehensive and Informative Commentary on State and Federal Legal Matters

Important Notice for Homeowners: Va. court bolsters defenses against unreasonable HOAs/COAs

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.

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Timing It Right: How understanding Va. statutes of limitations can save you time, effort, and money

When it comes to understanding and exercising your legal rights, one of the most important items for Virginians to understand is the statute of limitations.   In the Commonwealth, these statutes are designed to protect parties from the perpetual threat of  lawsuits by preventing claims from being filed in cases where a number of years have passed since the alleged action took place.  The reasoning behind this is simple: if it has been a more than a few years since the alleged breach of contract, accident, destruction of property, etc. , then it is reasonable to assume that the evidence in the case has gone “stale” and that witnesses can no longer give reliable testimony as to what actually occurred.  Additionally, since laws and legal precedents change over time, a statute of limitations (SOL) also functions to prevent old cases from being tried under new laws that were not in effect at the time of the alleged wrong-doing.

However reasonable and logical this  may be, the main thing for the average Virginian to keep in mind is that statues of limitations must be heeded if you want to preserve your right to seek damages in a court of law.  More bluntly (and ironically), if you do not have a working knowledge of Virginia’s SOLs, then you are likely to be S.O.L when you get around to filing a lawsuit.

That being said, here is a quick list of a few of the most common statutes of limitations, as defined in Virginia:

Breach of contract where the contract is a written contract = 5 years*

-Breach of contract where the contract is an oral or implied contract = 3 years*

-Personal injury claims or property damage claims = 2 years

*IMPORTANT NOTE: For cases that involve a breach of contract (written, oral, or implied), the statute of limitations is deemed to begin when 1) the contract was breached or 2) when it is reasonable to assume that you should have noticed that the contract was breached.  While small, this distinction can be very important in cases involving contractor fraud and the like, because if you do not treat every small leak or problem as important and, therefore, fail to address it sufficiently when you first notice it, you have still effectively begun the countdown until your statue of limitations runs.  In such a case, the fact that you did not act to fix the problem sufficiently when you first noticed it could prevent you from filing a lawsuit against the contractor when that “little leak” turns into a flooded basement or much larger problem 3 0r 5 years down the road.

As the above example illustrates, it is critical that you are aware of the amount of time you have to file suit under Virginia law.  Whether it be for breach of contract with a contractor, or for damages resulting from a car accident, you should always consult an attorney as soon you become aware of the problem and realize that a “quick fix” will not get the job done.