Liability - Insurance & Risk Management Issues

Most people are generally familiar with the concept that hotels, restaurants, and other places of public accommodation are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). However, as we have mentioned before on this blog, community associations can fall under the scope of the ADA as well.

The ADA is a sweeping set of federal statutes that applies to places of public accommodation, amongst other entities. The ADA framework seeks to prohibit discrimination against disabled persons. As a general matter, a community association may be a place of public accommodation for purposes of the ADA if it is open to the general public, if its common areas are available for rent by members of the public, or if there are portions of the common area open to the public, such as restaurants or a golf course. The legal inquiry as to whether an association is a “covered entity” is rather fact intensive. Ultimately, the analysis turns on how open the Association is to members of the general public, not just its own owners. The more a community association is open to the public, the higher the chance that the community association will fall under the scope of the ADA.
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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.
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LeClairRyan attorneys Lori Schweller and Will Sleeth will be speaking once again at this year’s Community Association Day trade event sponsored by the Central Virginia Chapter of CAI, which will take place this Tuesday the 18th. The two will be giving a presentation titled "Common Area, Common Problems — Parking, Drinking, and Other Liability Issues".

  Amazon.com’s recent announcement – that in the future it may utilize unmanned drones to deliver packages to individual residences – has created a host of novel legal issues that all homeowners associations should consider and plan for. Although commentators believe that the commercial use of delivery drones may be a few years off, associations should begin planning now for whether they should regulate the use of drones within the association; how they should regulate the use of drones; and how they can minimize potential liability arising from the use of drones.

While the public has so far only been provided with bits and pieces of information about the make-up and capabilities of unmanned delivery drones, some general information is available: a drone will carry a package and will fly from a warehouse to an owner’s house, with the goal of attempting to deliver the package in a very short amount of time right after it has been ordered. The drone is designed to land, helicopter style, on an owner’s lawn and drop off the package. The drone will then use its helicopter-style propellers to vertically ascend from the owner’s lawn and return to the warehouse.


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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.


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As any condominium association that has had to deal with one knows, the mechanic’s lien is a powerful hammer to force payment to a contractor. Once it is filed in the land records, a lien often makes it impossible for condominium unit owners to sell or refinance, costs the condominium association time and money (in legal fees) to defend, and generally embroils the condominium association in much unwanted litigation.

The good news is that removing a mechanic’s lien can be easier than you might think. Filing a lien, especially on a large condominium association, is not an easy task. The contractor has to conduct a title search and bring down for each condominium unit. And the Virginia mechanic’s lien statute is full of traps for the unwary. Because the Virginia courts view mechanic’s liens as "purely a creature of statute" and "in derogation of the common law," the mechanic’s lien statute is strictly construed. That is, it must be followed meticulously, or the lien will be invalid. Thus, painstaking analysis is required to ensure that the lien complies with Title 43 of the Virginia Code.

As a result, mechanic’s lien claims can be very defensible. Aside from the critical timing issues, which affect all mechanic’s liens (they must be filed within 90 days, and may only include work done within 150 days, of completion of the work), there are certain property identity and allocation issues that are specific to condominiums.

Here are some important points to remember:


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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

If your homeowners association has not yet adopted an owner complaint policy, it should move quickly. Recently, Virginia’s Common Interest Community Board promulgated regulations to implement a recent law (Virginia Code Section 55-530(E)) requiring all homeowners associations in Virginia to adopt a policy for receiving and reviewing owner complaints.

Under the regulations, all homeowners associations must

LeClairRyan Community Association Team member Brian Muse recently blogged about the time extension under the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) for compliance with pool lift requirements, something that every HOA with a pool should be aware of. Check out Brian’s post over at his new blog ADA Musings. While you’re there, you’ll find that his blog

If your homeowners association has not yet adopted a records copying policy, it should move quickly. On July 1, 2012, a new law in Virginia goes into effect that requires boards of directors of associations to have adopted a cost schedule if the association wants to charge owners for the costs of copies and labor