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Going Solar? What Should Community Associations Consider

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Posted by Staff Writer on Jan 17, 2018 8:00:00 AM

Solar_Panels_on_RoofSolar power is becoming more and more popular - but can have issues for community associations. The primary issues are, of course, aesthetic. Solar panels can be ugly and ground-mounted solar panels may cause safety and access issues. So, can homeowners' associations ban solar panels? The answer is: It depends.

If your state (and most do) has a solar access law then you cannot ban the installation of solar panels. You can, however, place restrictions, as long as they are not so burdensome that they equate to a ban. Some states may also require that restrictions do not substantially increase cost or reduce efficiency. For example, if you have a restriction saying that panels can only be installed on the rear roof, this might be challenged by homeowners if the front of their house faces south. However, you may also be able to ban ground-mounted panels, or make reasonable requests (for example, using material that blends in, as much as possible, with the existing roof, insisting that panels do not break the roof line, or allowing ground-mounted panels only if they are not visible to other homeowners). Federal solar access has been proposed but is unlikely to pass in the current legislative climate.

Any restrictions set need to be clearly contained within, ideally, the CC&Rs. Bear in mind that even in states without heavy restrictions, the court precedents establish that if you do not have a written policy against solar panels you have little chance of being able to prevent them. Even if you do, the courts are increasingly deciding against associations that restrict solar panel installation. Make sure that any restrictions you place fall within the laws of your state.

If a homeowner is requesting permission to install solar panels, it is better to work with them than to say no. Ask to see pictures of other installations done by their chosen installer so you can see the visual impact. Ending up in court is expensive and on this particular issue you could well lose, especially if there is a solar rights law or solar easement law in place. (That said, some courts have decided in favor of homeowners' associations even after panels have been installed, requiring their removal - but do you want to be known as the association that forced somebody to remove a $40,000 system?). Most homeowners will gladly work with you on designing a system that will be both efficient and aesthetically attractive.

The current climate is also such that community associations can no longer use the argument that solar panels will lower the value of the property or surrounding properties. In fact, the opposite is likely to be true, an argument that has won over a number of associations. This gives an alternative route community associations may decide to follow - embracing solar and marketing themselves as a green community. In this case, guidelines should be written to, as best as possible, push towards a uniform appearance of installations. If every house has panels, then they stop becoming as obvious. You might even consider working with solar installers in the area so you can provide approved installers - who already know the community's preferences on color, style, and placement. This may end up being the way forward for most associations - in fact, depending on what common buildings you have, the association may find installing solar on common buildings and areas is a long-term money saver.

In short - if you want to restrict solar panel installation, you should check the law in your state and what restrictions you are allowed to place. Work with homeowners on designing installations that fit the aesthetic requirements your community desires and consider whether it might not be better for your community to embrace solar power as a neighborhood. If your association is looking for more guidelines on finding the proper balance for restriction solar panels, contact GrandManors today.

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Staff Writer

Staff Writer

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