How to Deal with a Homeowner's Association When Thinking of Installing Solar
What happens when a homeowner wants to install a solar power system on their roof and has concerns their Homeowner's Association (HOA) would deny them? This issue generally comes up for the first timer in the HOA community who goes solar, everyone who follows has a smoother road. Regardless, there are some things you should be aware of if you're going to deal with your HOA.
What is a Homeowner's Association?
One definition is an organization in a subdivision, planned community, or condominium that makes and enforces rules for the properties in its jurisdiction. HOAs also collect annual dues to pay for upkeep of common areas like parks, tennis courts, elevators and swimming pools. They can also levy special fees if there are unexpected repairs.
Some HOAs can be very demanding with what their members can do with their properties even with something as simple as the way they hang their Christmas lights. HOAs can also wield significant legal authority over their property owners.
What is a HOA concerned about when it comes to solar?
The major HOA concerns which they use to deny a homeowner are generally the following:
- Community aesthetics
- Tree preservation and planting
- Health and safety
- Array size
- Array orientation
- Array tilt
- System shading
In most cases the most applicable issue is the community aesthetics concern, especially in gated communities. If the residential solar panels are placed on the roof side that faces the backyard, then there is less of a chance a HOA will have a problem. The issue is most often when the panels are visible from the street. That has been our main experience with HOAs. The HOA is concerned the panels are going to look like an eye sore and decrease surrounding property values.
If a HOA has concerns, what are your rights?
For a lot of states, there are legal rights a homeowner has when it comes to solar. First, we would need to understand the difference between a solar easement and a solar right. The Solar Rights Act bars restrictions by HOAs on the installation of solar-energy systems. Twenty-four states currently have adopted solar rights. So if you are a homeowner in a solar rights state, a HOA does not have the authority to stop you from installing a solar array. Unfortunately, Ohio is not yet one of these states.
The second type of sunshine regulation is called a solar easement. A solar easement provision, "...is generally described as a right, expressed as an easement, restriction, covenant, or condition contained in any deed, contract, or other written instrument executed by or on behalf of any landowner for the purpose of assuring adequate access to direct sunlight for solar energy systems'” This means you have a guaranteed right to sunlight on your property and you have legal recourse against being blocked or restricted in some manner by your neighbor.
However, solar easements do not give you the right to install a solar energy system without a HOA or governmental authority having a say in the matter. It does not mean a HOA or governmental body will necessarily deny a homeowner who wants solar panels, it just means that they have the right to review the matter and deny it if they find a reasonable justification. Ohio is one of sixteen states that has a solar easement provision.
If your HOA in Ohio wants to stop you from installing a solar array, they can do it.
The reality is homeowners have to make concessions as long as they live within an HOA community. If this is a new issue then you have to make a convincing argument for your solar array and most importantly convince your HOA that the solar energy system is an aesthetically attractive addition.
- Before all else, make sure you have all your permits approved, your system designed, and all technical information ready to go. Then, a good solar installation company will prepare drawings that show what the final product will look like as well as other visually pleasing solar installations on similar houses.
- You might need to rally your neighbors to your defense. Talk to them about your plans. Explain how solar adds equity to a house, looks beautiful, and is one of the most environmentally conscious actions you can take.
- Eventually, you are going to have to go before your HOA board and advocate convincingly on your own behalf.
- Do everything possible to avoid any legal wrangling. You have to live with your HOA. Be persistent and firm in explaining to them your case. Whatever you do, don't install your panels until after you get approval from your HOA. And be persistent some more! Eventually they will come around.
A good Ohio solar installation company will also advocate on your behalf and act as a partner providing you with safety documents and all technical specifications for your home solar system. They will also do everything they can to make sure the mounting racks and solar panels match the color of the roof and are as unobtrusive as possible.