HOAs And Solar Panels: Helping Clients Get Approval
Updated: May 18, 2022
Across the United States, there are approximately 370,000 homeowners associations (HOAs) regulating 40 million homes. Because they are so widespread, many potential customers likely live in areas with HOAs.
Sometimes, solar shoppers are excited to install PV panels only to have them blocked by an HOA. Unfortunately, they have been known to prevent many households from installing PV modules, hurting the solar industry. Often, they want neighborhoods to have uniform appearances, and solar panels do not fit that mold.
Understanding the rights of HOAs and how to potentially work with them to get projects approved is critical for many solar companies to thrive. Let’s explore this important topic to help you boost sales, increase renewable energy capacity, and reduce your customers’ carbon footprint.
What Legal Solar Restrictions Exist For HOA Communities
HOAs seek to protect homeowners’ investments in a given neighborhood and often try to ensure a uniform appearance among the homes. Therefore, they create covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) that impact how residents can use, change, and renovate their properties.
Historically, numerous HOA rules prevented residents from installing solar power systems. However, today there are solar access laws in numerous states that protect homeowners’ rights to install solar panels on homes.
Solar Access Laws
These laws prevent HOAs from banning the installation of solar panels in their neighborhoods. However, solar access rules vary by state law and HOAs may still influence the design and locations of solar installations. Although the solar access rights vary by state, they often contain language about HOAs having “reasonable” rules related to the placement and size of solar equipment and aesthetic preferences.
For example, HOAs may have setback requirements, allow only certain types of solar panels for aesthetic reasons, or may prohibit installers from mounting solar panels above the roofline. Also, they may require that solar modules be mounted flush against the roof, or the conduit is concealed or not visible from the front of the home.
Many states have solar access laws, including California, New York, Utah, Texas, Arizona, and Florida. As a solar installer, it is critical to know the laws in the states where you operate.
A big obstacle to solar energy production is shading. Thus, solar easements enable a homeowner to negotiate for the rights to unobstructed sunlight on their property. Once enacted, the solar easement is tied to the property and applies to future owners. This is another legal tool that homeowners can use to protect their access to sunlight.
For example, suppose a neighboring property has trees near the property line that could shade the solar panels. In that case, a solar easement could require the trees to be trimmed or cut down once they reach a certain height.
Thirty states have laws that allow property owners to create solar easements, including California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Washington.
However, easements are voluntary, even in states that allow them. Thus, your customer’s neighbor would need to approve the easement. Often, property owners are offered compensation for signing the agreement. Also, solar easements are not limited to properties with HOAs.
These covenants impact how a homeowner uses their property and is an agreement with the HOA. They commonly cover topics including landscaping, rentals, holiday decorations, vehicles, pets, trash, noise, exterior changes, and storage. Often, residents are limited to certain exterior colors of paint, the total number of vehicles, and what they can store on their property. For example, it might require a homeowner to mow their lawn or limit what they can do in their yard, such as raising livestock.
Failure to follow CC&Rs can result in fines or even a lien on a property. Restrictive covenants can be a good thing that helps stop behaviors that could decrease property values, such as preventing a homeowner from creating a junkyard or having loud parties late at night. However, they can also significantly restrict the use of one’s property in some cases.
To learn more about restrictive covenants, homeowners should obtain a copy of their covenants, conditions, and restrictions. This will inform them if there are specific rules regarding residential solar installations.
The California Solar Rights Act
This law took effect in 1979 and prevents California HOAs from prohibiting the installation of solar arrays. Later, it was expanded to include California towns and cities.
Under this law, entities can impose reasonable restrictions on solar systems that do not significantly increase the cost, efficiency, or performance of the system. This is defined as adding no more than $1,000 to the total system cost or decreasing the efficiency by no more than 10%.
Common Reasons Homeowners Associations May Restrict Solar Installation
There are a couple primary reasons that HOAs limit solar installations.
County Or Neighborhood Laws
Local governments have a variety of documents that shape land use and development. For example, zoning laws impact how land is used and developed in accordance with a specific vision. However, sometimes these documents don’t specifically mention solar energy systems, creating a legal gray area.
In some towns with historic buildings and houses, there are laws to preserve the look and feel of historic districts. If your customer’s neighborhood does have special historical zoning requirements, there might be limitations on where or if you can install solar panels.
For example, they might be prohibited from locating solar panels where they are visible from the street. However, they might be allowed to mount your solar energy panels where they are only visible from the back of the property.
When HOAs try to prevent solar system installations, it is usually because they want to maintain a uniform appearance throughout the neighborhood or there are concerns about how the solar panels could impact property values. Often, CC&Rs limit property aesthetics, and solar panel installations can fall into the same domain.
Alternatives To Roof-Installed Solar Systems
If an HOA doesn’t allow a solar system in a neighborhood, it might be possible for this customer to join a community solar farm. With this setup, the solar systems are not located on members’ properties.
Another alternative is a ground-mounted solar system. This means the solar panels are mounted in the yard or perhaps as a carport or trellis. Unfortunately, this often has a higher cost because it requires additional labor and mounting hardware.
Guiding Homeowners Through The HOA Approval Process
Depending on the CC&Rs, it might be required to submit paperwork to the HOA before installing a solar system. If so, some solar installations companies will fill out the paperwork on their customer’s behalf. Often, this includes submitting a copy of the proposal and images of what the system will look like. Taking the lead on this may help boost sales because some homeowners might be gun shy about approaching HOAs.
To help ensure a successful project, find out early in the design phase if the HOA has rules regarding the placement of solar panels. Also, if there are solar access laws in their state, make sure they are aware of them and educate them on the laws if necessary.
It might be helpful to establish a positive relationship with the HOA and show you are open to input while also educating them about the benefits of solar energy. For example, solar systems boost property values, which could help make HOA board members more supportive.
Also, working with an HOA might require being flexible. For example, they are more likely to approve a system with all black panels compared to ones with a silver frame. Installing a front skirt could help conceal hardware for a tidy appearance. Listen to member concerns to determine if modifications are possible.
Help Your Clients Get HOA Approval For Their Solar System
Because 40 million homes are regulated by HOAs, it is critical to be able to serve this market to grow your business. Moving solar projects forward with HOAs may require knowing the laws, submitting paperwork, and being flexible with the solar system design. Even in areas with solar access laws, homeowners may need to adapt to HOA requests to gain project approval.
If you complete work in a given neighborhood and do a good job, it is likely to lead to referrals. Once you have worked with a given HOA board and established a positive relationship, it is likely going to be easier to get future projects approved.