Many may recall the recent story about the airline traveler seeking to bring an emotional support peacock (Dexter) on board an airplane.  While the story received much national publicity, the reality appears to be that assistance animals and emotional support animals are becoming more commonplace in everyday life.  Stories such as Dexter’s present some interesting legal questions for non-profits, governments, and businesses alike.

Assistance animals and emotional support animals are sometimes (incorrectly) used interchangeably.  They involve different sources of law and require different analyses.  This next series of posts will seek to provide some clarity on the legal issues relating to both categories.  In part one of this series, we will focus on the legal issues surrounding the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and assistance animals for purposes of community associations.  Our next post will address emotional support animals and the federal and state fair housing acts. Continue Reading Assistance Animals and the ADA: What Community Associations Ought to Know

LeClairRyan attorney Will Sleeth recently spoke at the James City County Neighborhood Leaders Forum on community association law issues. Will was invited to speak on a panel, along with several other attorneys (including the Virginia Common Interest Community Ombudsman, Heather Gillespie, and Deputy James City County Attorney Adam Kinsman), to discuss an array of recent developments in community association law.

The James City County Neighborhood Leaders Forum meetings take place every few months, and consist of various educational presentations and dialogue sessions hosted by the County Administrator, geared towards members and directors of homeowners associations in James City County. For more information on the James City County Neighborhood Leaders Forum, please click here.

 

How should a homeowners association or a condominium association deal with an owner who fails to pay his dues or assessments? There are three main remedies that associations have under Virginia law: (1) file a lawsuit against the owner, (2) file a memorandum of lien against the owner’s lot or unit, and (3) suspend an owner’s privilege to use certain portions of the common area or common element (we’ll address this third remedy in a future post).

Filing a Lawsuit

Associations have a right to file a lawsuit against delinquent owners, seeking a judgment for the delinquent amount. Many associations’ governing documents will also provide that the association is entitled to recover its court costs and attorneys’ fees too. In practice, some courts are occasionally reluctant to award associations the full amount of attorneys’ fees incurred in attempting to collect delinquent assessments, so the association may only be able to recover a certain dollar figure, or a certain percentage of the delinquent amount. While each court (and judge within that court) is different, it’s been our experience that in most situations, associations are usually able to recover most of the attorneys fees incurred in attempting to collect delinquent assessments.

Continue Reading Collections Options Regarding Owners Who Fail To Pay Their Assessments

 

When consulting with an attorney on behalf of a legal entity, such as a homeowners association or condominium unit owners association, or a developer that is a limited liability company or corporation, it is easy to lose track of who is being represented by the attorney. The attorney’s engagement letter should clearly state who the client is and, even better, will also state related parties whom the attorney will not be representing. Representation of an entity does not typically include representation of managers, individual officers, members, or shareholders of such entity unless such relationship is expressly or implicitly established.

If you are an officer, member, manager, director, or shareholder of a Declarant or Association, remember that, in your consultations with the attorney for such entity, you are acting as an agent of such entity, which is the client. Remembering that you personally are not the client will help you to avoid divulging confidences that are personal to you and that you may not want the others in the organization to know. In order to represent her Association or Declarant client diligently, the entity’s attorney may not be able to ethically keep your confidences from the client.

The annual Virginia Leadership Retreat will take place this year from July 27 – July 29, 2012 at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia. This annual event has become the premier state-wide gathering for the community association industry in Virginia. Once again, LeClairRyan’s community association team will be well represented there. Like most years, we’ll be blogging live from the event. Also, this year we’ll be tweeting live! If you’re not currently following Will Sleeth (the Editor of the Virginia Community Association Law Blog) on Twitter, you can follow him @Will_Sleeth. For more information about the Leadership Retreat, click here.

On Thursday, February 16, 2012, LeClairRyan employment law attorney and Community Association Team member Brian Muse will present a one-hour webinar on the Fair Credit Report Act.

This webinar will provide practical advice to employers on what they need to know to conduct background checks and employee investigations without running afoul of the FCRA. It will address the types of notice that employers must provide prior to background checks and the required procedures for compliance. It will also offer practical advice to employers to avoid legal trouble in this constantly evolving area of the law.

For more information, and to register for this event, click here.

 

LeClairRyan attorneys Doug Cuthbertson and Nicole Pszczolkowski were recently selected to give a presentation at the upcoming 2012 Conference and Expo of the Washington Metro Chapter of CAI. Their presentation, entitled "We’ve Been Sued! Now What?" will feature a discussion of practical tips for board members, community managers, and others on how to avoid litigation and what to do if they find themselves in litigation.

The 2012 Conference and Expo will take place on March 31, 2012, from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. For more information about the Conference, please click here.

Editor’s Note: Guest blogger Steve Blaine, a LeClairRyan attorney practicing out of the firm’s Charlottesville office, and focusing his practice on land use, zoning, and community association law, has contributed the following post.

 BMPs: How to avoid an amenity from becoming a headache.

We frequently counsel clients, community associations, developers and builders, on various issues involving that ubiquitous ‘amenity’ known as the stormwater detention pond, or “BMP” (short for “Best Management Practices”). This article will briefly discuss how to avoid some of the more common pitfalls facing homeowners whose community’s common areas/elements include these useful, even if at times burdensome, features. At the end of the article is a “glossary of key terms” related to BMPs.

Why do we have BMPs anyway?

BMPs are used to improve the quality of water runoff from roads, parking lots, developed land, including residential neighborhoods, and to reduce peak stormwater runoff flow by providing temporary storage during larger storm events. If the BMP in your subdivision was constructed early in the development process, it was probably used to trap sediment from construction activities in the tributary drainage area, which also can be a very effective way to collect and remove pollutants. Hopefully, the BMP in your neighborhood happens to provide other benefits such as passive recreation and open space in addition to reducing peak runoff rates and improving water quality.

It is essential for those responsible for maintaining these BMPs to understand their important role and what to do to assure their continued proper function.
 

Continue Reading Community Associations and Stormwater Detention Pond Maintenance (“BMP”) Responsibilities

The Fee Simple law journal (the journal of the Virginia State Bar’s Real Property Section) recently published an article by LeClairRyan‘s Will Sleeth related to developer transition issues. The article, titled "The Transition from Developer-Control of a Property Owners’ Association and the 2002 Attorney General’s Opinion," examined whether Virginia law imposes a time-limit on when a developer must transition control of the board of directors of a property owners’ association to the owners, if there is not a specific provision requiring such in the association’s governing documents. The article examines the current state of the law, with a special focus on a controversial opinion issued by the Virginia Attorney General in 2002. To read a copy of the article, click here.

 

While many board members have likely been tempted at some point to utter under their breaths that a fellow director can at times be a "dog," reports of actual dogs being appointed as directors of community associations are few and far between.

So it raised a few eyebrows when the Washington Post reported the other week that a shaggy white dog named "Ms. Beatha Lee" was recently elected the president of the Hillbrook-Tall Oaks Civic Association in Annandale, Virginia. The Post reports that certain members, frustrated at the difficulty of having to continually recruit members to serve on the board, decided to offer the dog as a candidate.

While it does not appear that the Association is a property owners’ association or condominium association, as defined under Virginia law, certain smaller community associations may experience similar frustrations in attempting to recruit and retain board members.

Here’s our free legal advice for the day: don’t even think about trying to nominate a dog (or any pet for that matter) for a board position. There is a large list of reasons why it would be improper, not the least of which is that most association documents require directors to be members of the association, something animals can not be by virtue of the fact that they can’t own property. Furthermore, the law imposes upon directors duties of care and loyalty to the corporation. While dog lovers will universally agree that dogs are some of the most "loyal" creatures there are, the legal concept of "loyalty" is quite different from faithfully retrieving a frisbee or curling up on the couch.