This case involved a dispute between two homeowners (Owners) and their homeowner’s association (Association) over Owners right to install solar panels on the roof of their house requiring HOA solar panel approval.

Associations Declaration contained a provision prohibiting improvements and exterior additions until the plans and specifications had been submitted and approved in writing by Associations Board of Trustees (directors), or by Associations Design Review Committee that consisted of three representatives appointed by the Board of Trustees. The provision also provided that if the Board of Trustees or the committee fail to approve or disapprove the improvement or exterior addition within 14 days after submittal of the plans and specifications, approval will not be required and the Article will be deemed to have been fully, complied with.

Owner submitted an HOA solar panel approval application to Associations Board of Trustees for installation of solar panels on the rear slope of his roof on May 26, 2017. The application was then forwarded to an architect for review. On May 31, 2017, the architect recommended to one of the Trustees that the application be approved on the condition that the panels be installed on the rear slopes of the roof. The Trustee then forwarded both the application and the architectural review to the other two Trustees. Thereafter, the individual Trustees had several email and telephonic communications amongst themselves where they agreed that the application should be disapproved. On June 3, 2017, a letter disapproving Owners application was prepared and circulated among the Trustees. The June 3, 2017 denial letter was then sent to Owners.

Upset with the denial of their HOA solar panel approval application, Owners filed suit against Association in which Owners sought a declaration by the court that Associations disapproval of their application was not in accordance with the Associations Declaration because Association did not properly act to approve or disapprove Owners application within 14 days. Owners contended that the disapproval of their application was not the product of a formal meeting of the Board of Trustees and not in accordance with the required statutory procedure for acting without a meeting.

The trial court concluded that the email exchanges amongst the individual Trustees approving the denial letter satisfied the statutory requirements for acting without a formal meeting and granted judgment in favor of Association. Owners then filed an appeal in which they contended the trial court erred in its conclusions that Associations Board of Trustees satisfied the requirements for acting outside of a formal meeting and, as a result, failed to either approve or disapprove Owners application within the required 14 day period, thus making approval not required.

Upon review of the evidence presented to the trial court, the appellate court found that the evidence did not support a finding that there was a signed writing from each of the Trustees that contained their individual vote to disapprove the Application, which was required by the statute in question. The appellate court further found that the mere exchange of emails did not satisfy the requirement for a signed writing and, if there were emails that were alleged to satisfy the requirement, they had to be filed with or entered upon the records of Association. Because the voting by the Trustees in this case did not satisfy those requirements, and thus did not comply with the statutory requirements for approval without a meeting, their disapproval was found to be ineffective. Thus, because Trustees did not properly act to disapprove Owners application with the required 14 days, approval was no longer deemed required, and Owners were entitled to proceed with the installation of the solar panels on their home.

Ohio Appellate Court decision (April 20, 2020).

See case decision: Sander_v._Country_Brook_Homeowners’_Ass’n