Dealing With an HOA During Solar Panel Installation

If you're living in a home that falls under the purview of a homeowners' association, or HOA, there may be certain situations where you have restrictions placed on you for home improvements or features. A common question we get from those looking to install new solar panels on their homes, in fact, is whether the HOA they're part of may cause issues here.

At Intermountain Wind & Solar, we're proud to provide comprehensive services for residential solar panel installation, from setup and procurement of our Tesla Powerwall battery backup to dealing with many of the details that may be involved in your installation. We've helped many of our clients deal with their HOA and handle any restrictions or other qualifications that may be required, and we're here to assist you if you're in this position. Here's a general primer on HOAs and solar panel installation.

Broad Overview

First and foremost, there are very few situations where an HOA can fully prevent a homeowner from installing a solar panel system. In most cases, where the HOA is able to impose restrictions on you, these are more of a nuisance than anything else.

The only significant exception here would be if your specific state requires approval for solar panel installation -- and has already denied your application for some reason. Only then can the HOA deny you the right to install panels; they do not have the right to deny you for aesthetic or other reasons.

Rather, HOAs are often empowered to create restrictions or guidelines for homeowners looking to install new solar panels. This typically falls under creating a "reasonable" guideline, which can be handled however the HOA decides is appropriate for your individual situation.

Our next several sections will go over other relevant factors here.

Solar Access Laws

As we just noted above, solar access laws vary by state. Some states require specific approval from the state's governing body, while others do not.

And in both these cases (at least so long as you're approved by your state itself), state solar access laws do not allow HOAs to prohibit your installation of solar panels. They can create guidelines and restrictions, but they cannot outright deny you the use of your right to harness this renewable energy source.

For instance, a historical district governed by an HOA may be able to deny you the right to install solar panels because of an architectural guidelines that restricts certain design elements. However, if the HOA denied you the right to install your system because it's visible from a public road or pathway near your property, this would be in violation of state law -- and you could take legal action here if need be.

Many of the common restrictions we see from HOAs, however, are much less significant. They may prohibit ground-mounted panels, for instance, or require that certain components of a solar power system are not visible from the street. In some situations, requirements are as limited as ensuring that the color of the panels matches the color of your home, which is very easy to accomplish.

Solar Easements

In addition to solar access laws, solar easements are legal protections for a home's access to sunshine. In states that have solar easements, these are put in place to ensure homeowners have the right to install solar panels on their own land -- and they can negotiate with their neighbors individually to protect their sunlight rights while also preventing any obstructions or issues. These easements also typically make it much more difficult for HOAs to impose limitations on solar panels.

Solar easements are voluntary, meaning they need to be agreed upon in writing. These documents should also include a detailed description of where the easement will exist, plus any restrictions or qualifications that may be placed on it.

This document must also include a statement guaranteeing that the easement is for solar installation purposes, and can't be used by your neighbor to install something else instead -- such as a fence or other private construction. This can help you prevent disputes in your neighborhood from arising out of misunderstandings about the rights and responsibilities of each homeowner.

Other State Laws or Guidelines

Once again, it's extremely important to know how your state works when it comes to solar panel installation, and even when it comes to dealing with HOAs. For instance, the state of California adopted the Solar Rights Act in 1978, and this significantly limits HOAs in terms of imposing guidelines or other limitations on solar panels. This includes things like imposing shade requirements, design limitations or aesthetic guidelines -- and even outright prohibitions against your right to install your own energy-producing system.

California also maintains the Solar Shade Control Act, which stops tree branches that are taller than 12 feet from casting shadows onto your roof -- regardless of whether that tree is on your property or not. A 2007 ruling by the California Building Standards Commission also included language allowing solar access to all buildings, even those previously thought exempt due to being higher than three stories. This includes restrictions based on building height, so HOA guidelines that prohibit solar installation on three-story or higher homes due to height would be in violation of state law.

Florida's Solar Rights Act is similar -- though it applies more to shade requirements than outright prohibitions on solar panels. This act establishes the right for each homeowner to install their own renewable energy systems, and ensures they won't be limited by their neighbors. This also puts the responsibility of resolving disputes on the HOA -- and homeowners who don't follow your HOA's guidelines could face fines or other penalties as a result.

For more on dealing with a homeowners' association when installing new solar panels on your property, or to learn about any of our solar panel systems or battery backups, speak to the team at Intermountain Wind & Solar today.

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