Solar panels pose a lot of benefits, which is why more and more homeowners are installing them on their property. But, for those who live in an HOA community, there is the question of whether or not solar panels are allowed. Here’s everything homeowners and board members should know about HOA solar panels.
In this article:
Understanding HOA Solar Panels and Restrictive Covenants
Anyone who has ever lived in an HOA community knows that making property additions and alterations isn’t as straightforward. Homeowners associations have a primary goal of protecting and improving property values. These associations accomplish that by upholding certain standards when it comes to the things homeowners can and can’t do.
You will find the obligations and rights of homeowners and the association within a community’s Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions (CC&Rs). Among the covenants outlined in this document are restrictive covenants. For those who are unaware, restrictive covenants are legal agreements that prevent homeowners from doing a specific action.
One of the most common restrictive covenants in an HOA community has to do with the exterior appearance of homeowner property. For instance, an association may prohibit homeowners from painting their houses a specific color. There are also covenants that restrict the addition of structures that affect the look of the property’s exterior. This includes pools, fences, and other structures.
But, what about solar panels? Can an HOA restrict solar panels? The answer is not a simple yes or no. It really depends on where your association is located and what laws come into play. To know whether or not your HOA can restrict solar panels in your community, you must first check state laws and then your governing documents.
Homeowner’s Right to Install Solar Panels
Can an HOA prohibit solar panels? It depends on where you are. Nearly half of all states have enacted laws protecting homeowners’ rights to installing solar panels. These laws generally prohibit HOAs from outright banning solar panels within their communities. Solar access rights can fall under one of two types — solar access laws and solar easements.
Solar Access Laws
These laws prohibit associations from forbidding or restricting homeowners from installing solar panels on their properties. But, these laws generally do allow HOAs to impose reasonable restrictions when it comes to the installation process, placement, and design. More often than not, the association may still require homeowners to request permission for the installation of solar panels, usually following an application and approval process.
Which states have solar access rights? In California, the Solar Rights Act and Civil Code Section 714 protect homeowners’ rights to generating solar energy. There are similar laws in Texas as seen in Texas Property Code 202. Florida, Arizona, and Utah are some examples of states that have enacted solar access rights laws. Solar access laws by state can vary, so it is imperative to check your own state laws to see what applies to your HOA.
These easements are agreements that individual homeowners voluntarily negotiate and enter with their neighbors or homeowners association. These easements ensure a homeowner’s solar panels receive sufficient sunlight with the help of certain requirements and restrictions. For example, the easement may require a homeowner’s neighbors to trim their trees or restrict them from adding structures that may block the solar panels.
An Exception to the Rule
A majority of solar access laws have special exceptions in place, though. Historic districts, for one, can typically deny or restrict solar panel installation as these structures can interfere with the notable character of the neighborhood. Other times, a historic district may require homeowners to install solar panels in a way that hides them from public view.
The exact exceptions can differ according to your location, so it is essential to be familiar with your state laws prior to undertaking any solar panel installations. It is worth noting that these exceptions can sometimes make the process more challenging and costly, too.
Solar Panels and HOA Rules: What Can an HOA Do?
If your state allows you to place reasonable restrictions on the installation of solar panels, then there are some things that may be within your HOA’s control. A few of the restrictions that your HOA can impose include the placement of the panels, their design, and the method of installation.
Many associations also have an application and approval process that homeowners must follow. The Architectural Review Committee usually oversees these processes, with final approval typically coming from the board. Many solar panel companies offer homeowners assistance when going through such processes.
It is imperative to communicate your HOA solar panel guidelines, if any, to all homeowners. Make sure to clearly outline the exact steps homeowners need to take when applying for solar panel installation. What forms should they fill out? What plans or blueprints should they submit? Defining all of these early on will help your HOA streamline the procedure.
Know the Benefits of Solar Panels in Your HOA
Solar panels and homeowners associations may not have the smoothest relationship, especially since they can significantly alter the exterior appearance of properties. But, HOAs must understand that there are many advantages to having solar panels.
First of all, there is the obvious benefit of saving on electricity costs. In some instances, homeowners can even sell back the electricity they collect to energy companies.
Secondly, solar panels come in a bevy of designs, and a lot of them are actually very pleasing to the eye. Associations have a common misconception that all solar panels are bulky and downright ugly. But, there are many experienced companies that can make solar panels look absolutely stunning.
Finally, there is reason to believe that solar panels can actually improve the value of a home. In fact, a study has even shown that home value increases $20 for every $1 saved in annual energy costs.
The State of Federal Law on HOA Solar Panels
While no federal law protecting homeowners’ solar rights exists as of now, it isn’t too far-fetched to say that one may exist in the future. In 2009 came the introduction of the American Clean Energy and Security Act which, if it had passed, would have made it illegal for HOAs to prohibit solar panel installation on a nationwide level. Any HOA rules that conflicted with this would have then become unenforceable.
The act ultimately did not pass, but it is plausible that similar solar panel laws may be enacted in the future. Many states already have laws concerning homeowners association solar panels today. Other states may soon follow, and federal legislation may even revisit the topic depending on the political climate.
Knowledge Is (Solar) Power
While it is clear that solar energy is a bankable trend, not all homeowners associations allow them just yet. Both homeowners and HOA board members must familiarize themselves with solar access laws that exist in their state. Additionally, you must check your association’s governing documents for any provisions relating to HOA solar panels. In doing so, both parties can stay well within the law and the community’s guidelines.
Having trouble understanding your governing documents? An HOA management company can help. Use our online directory today to start looking for the best HOA management company in your area.
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