Requests from homeowners for approval to install solar panels on their property are becoming more and more common in homeowners associations throughout the country. Given the likelihood that most homeowners associations will have to address the issues involving the installation of solar panels on a homeowner’s separate interest sooner or later, associations should be prepared for properly handling those issues when they do come up.
While homeowners do not have a right to install solar panels on common area property, they generally do have limited rights to install them in portions of their separate interest property, and statutes that are currently in effect in various states will typically limit a homeowners association’s ability to restrict the installation of solar panels within a separate interest. Common limitations that are imposed on homeowners seeking consent to the installation of solar panels on some portion of their separate interest within a homeowners association include a requirement for the submission of an application to the association’s architectural committee. In evaluating the application, the HOA can impose „reasonable standards“ such as the use alternative products that may be viewed as less intrusive and compliance with specified installation guidelines. „Reasonable standards“ imposed by the HOA should not result in a significant increase in the cost of the system, and should not significantly decrease the efficiency or performance of the system. If an HOA rejects a homeowner’s request for approval to install solar panels, the homeowner can challenge the denial by contending and proving that the HOA’s restrictions were unreasonable.
State statutes also typically require that the homeowner provide for the maintenance, repair, or replacement of roofs or other building components that is required as a result of the solar panels. HOAs can, and should, also require the homeowner and the installers of solar panels to indemnify the association and other homeowners for all damage or loss the results from the installation, maintenance or use of the solar panels.
Given the growing popularity of solar panels and the growing potential for associations to experience conflicts with homeowners relative to the installation of solar panels, homeowners associations should adopt guidelines relative to the use of solar energy by homeowners in order to ensure consistency in how applications to install solar panels are considered and uniformity in the design and installation of solar energy systems within their common interest community. Provisions that may be found in such guidelines could include, but are not limited to the following:
- A requirement for the submittal of an application to the homeowners association for approval to install the solar panels;
- The application must be supported by plans drawn to scale that detail the equipment and the location of the proposed installation;
- A requirement for the submission of photos of the roof area where the panels are to be installed with the application;
- A requirement for the submission of brochures, literature and color photos of the proposed system with the application;
- The application must be approved in writing prior to the installation;
- All components of the system should be integrated into the design of the house on which the panels are to be installed;
- The color of the solar panels should conform to the color of the roof material to the extent possible;
- The installation of the system must be performed by properly licensed and insured contractors;
- A requirement for an indemnification agreement from the homeowner and the contractor.
While it is important for directors and management personnel to be aware of issues pertaining to the approval of homeowner requests for permission to install solar panels, a formal policy governing requirements for installing solar panels that is to be considered and adopted by an association should always be drafted by experienced legal counsel to ensure that it is complete and that it complies with applicable laws and other provisions of the association’s governing documents. Procedurally, the process should start with the association’s board of directors considering the need for such a policy in an open meeting of the board. Assuming the board determines that it is in the best interests of the association to adopt such a policy, it should then authorize a board member or management person to consult with the association’s legal counsel to obtain a proposed policy document. Input from legal counsel for the association should include comments on whether or not the association’s board of directors has the authority to adopt the policy or whether membership approval is required. The proposed document containing the policy should be circulated to all board members and then discussed and voted upon at an open meeting of the association’s board of directors. If the policy is approved and adopted by the board, a complete copy of the policy should be circulated to all homeowners.