As a long-time land use attorney, I know first hand that homeowners associations (also known as HOAs) can be very restrictive when it comes to any installations on the exterior of your house. From basketball hoops to clotheslines, many associations prohibit items that they say will diminish property values in the neighborhood.
Perhaps not surprisingly solar panels may be restricted in a homeowners association. Like satellite dishes and antennas, the aesthetic impact is the primary reason for HOAs’ prohibition of solar installations. But trust me – you can find a way to have your solar and your neighborly relations too.
Know that, generally speaking, the CCRs (covenants conditions and restrictions) governing your neighborhood are like another layer of laws. When you purchase a home in the neighborhood, you enter a contract agreeing to abide by the rules and regulations (tip: don’t buy a house in an area that has overly restrictive CCRs). Still, the HOA rules must be fair and fairly enforced. Not only that, but they must abide by state and federal laws.
In California, for example, you can support your request for solar panels to an HOA board of directors with citations to the following laws:
- The Solar Rights Act of 1978: No one is allowed to prohibit or restrict the installation or use of a solar energy system. In addition, no one, other than a public entity, is allowed to “willfully avoid or [delay]” the installation of a solar energy system. If you run afoul of these requirements, you may face a fine.
- Section 714 of California Civil Code: Municipalities and HOAs only may restrict a solar energy system if the restrictions don’t result in a cost increase of more than $2,000 or decrease its efficiency/performance by more than 20%.
Knowing that asking for HOA approval of your solar panels is a delicate, political issue, consider these tips.
1. Be upfront with your adjoining neighbors before you even start your application. Invite them over to review the plans and make them your allies… or at least diffuse potential issues before they start.
2. Remember that you are the applicant – not your solar contractor. The people in your community will be living next to you, and will want to hear your side of why you are proposing to install solar panels.
3. Carefully prepare your application with photographs of similar installations done by your contractor and include assurances regarding potential aesthetic impact.
4. Demonstrate why you want to go solar with detailed information about cost savings and positive impacts to the environment.
5. Rally support among other neighbors in your community and ask them to either sign a petition, write a letter or attend a public hearing on your behalf. There is strength in numbers!
6. If all else fails, consider hiring an attorney to review your CCRs, your proposal and help you prepare an appeal. Best bet, to get legal representation on your side as you prepare the original application!