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Owners’ fee award against HOA may prompt more suits

Community Associations Industry Team Member William Sleeth Quoted in Virginia Lawyers Weekly

A new attorney’s fees opinion by a Fairfax judge could fuel litigation against community associations, lawyers say.

Homeowners are entitled to recover attorney’s fees if they prevail in a suit under the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act, the judge decided in an Aug. 24 letter opinion.
It’s a clear ruling in a murky area that strengthens an owner’s bargaining position, a lawyer for the plaintiff homeowners said.

The case is Farran v. Olde Belhaven Towne Owners’ Association (VLW 011-8-162). It was decided by Fairfax County Circuit Judge Lorraine Nordlund.

William W. Sleeth III of Williamsburg, whose practice includes community association work, agrees the attorney’s fees issue can be critical. “Sometimes the recovery of attorney’s fees can become one of the dominant factors driving the case from the plaintiff’s end and can occasionally dwarf the actual monetary amount at issue,” he said.

With the sour economy, homeowners have become more aggressive towards each other and towards their associations, Sleeth said. He suspects claims are up against community associations.

“This case and others like it really underscore the need for community associations to be proactive in seeking out legal advice to ensure they don’t find themselves ensnared in potentially costly litigation,” he said.

Surovell said a trial on the Farrans’ suit is scheduled for November.

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