How to Fight for Your Right to go Solar (and Win)

Residential solar power systems are a great idea for home owners, but not every home owner’s association feels the same way. Attempt to install solar panels on your roof, and your home owner’s association may fight you with fines and other penalties, which can stop you from enjoying your solar power system before you’ve even had a chance to use it.

The bad news is that in some locations, there’s not much you can do but try to convince your community association that solar power in the neighborhood is a good idea (more on that later). Some states offer little to no protection against HOA solar power restrictions, and you’re on your own in your solar power fight. In these states, you may ultimately lose your fight and be blocked from a solar installation — but it’s also possible that you may win.

The good news is that in many states, there are laws that prevent home owner’s associations from interfering with solar power system installations. That means if you live in one of these states, the law is on your side, not the HOA’s. Ultimately, you can install a solar power system including solar panels on your home, though they may be able to place reasonable restrictions on the size and location of your panels.

Whether you live in a state with or without HOA solar power access laws, you have options. In a state with a solar power protection, it can be as simple as informing your HOA of the law and explaining your rights. But in a state without solar access laws, you may have to do some convincing. Protected or not, here’s what you need to do.

States Where Your HOA Can’t Stop You from Installing Solar Panels

In these states, residential solar power system installations are protected by laws. Home owners should expect to be able to install solar panels with little to no restrictions. However, it is important to note that HOA approval will still be needed to ensure that solar panels meet community standards.

What Solar Access Laws Do

With solar access laws or solar rights, home owners have a clear path to solar power system installation. Home owner’s associations and other entities are not able to prevent or punish the installation of residential solar power systems. They are also not able to place unreasonable restrictions on the installation of solar panels, such as those that would interfere with efficient operation.

Limitations to HOA Solar Protection Laws

While ultimately, in a state with a solid solar access law, home owners will be able to install solar panels, that doesn’t mean you can completely ignore your HOA and forge ahead with your solar installation. Typically, states allow community associations the ability to place reasonable restrictions on the installation of solar power panels, so you will still need to work closely with your HOA to get approval for your solar power system installation.

Installing Residential Solar Power Systems with a Solar Access Law

When planning your solar power system installation, you’ll need to contact your HOA early on in the process. Discuss any restrictions they may have on how and where you can install your solar power panels, and work with your solar power installer to determine whether or not restrictions are reasonable and if they interfere significantly with efficiency or cost. The law typically allows HOAs to regulate the height, slope, and color of solar panels as long as they don’t unreasonably increase the cost of installation or significantly decrease the efficiency of the system.

If the HOA’s requirements do cause unreasonable restriction, you should be able to point out the law or work with authorities to assert your solar rights. Typically, a restriction would be considered unreasonable if it adds expenses of $1,000 to $2,000 or more, or reduces efficiency by 10 percent to 20 percent or more.

In some cases, legal action is required. With solar access, litigation is typically the bottom line resort for enforcing the law.

Wait to Get Permission to Install Your Solar Panels

Whether you’re in a solar access state or not, you’ll need to talk to your HOA before you begin your solar panel installation. As with any improvement you make to your home, you’ll need to get their approval prior to installation. Push ahead without getting their sign off, and you could lose thousands if you’re forced to remove or modify an existing solar panel installation. While it’s not always pleasant to work with your HOA to get permission to make an improvement like solar panels, it is necessary and recommended.

How to Convince Your HOA to Let You Install Solar Panels

While solar access laws are an excellent protection tool for many solar power home owners, they do not exist in every state. For many home owners, that means convincing community associations that solar power is a good idea for the neighborhood without the help of the law. It sounds daunting, and for some home owners, this is a difficult if not impossible task. But it is possible in many cases to work with your HOA even if they are fully within their rights to shoot down your request to install solar panels.

Does Your HOA Ban Solar Panels?

If you’re not protected by solar access laws, the first place to start is by examining the governing documents of your community. Some HOA documents will make no mention of solar panels, while others will specifically state that they are not allowed.

HOAs that have already banned solar panels may be tougher to work with, but you still have a starting point. You can call for a vote to change the documents, which will take some convincing.

In an HOA that doesn’t have documentation that outright bans solar panels, you can have a lawyer look over your agreement to see if there is a loophole due to ambiguity. You may have to go to court to get approval. Or, you may be able to work with board members or even your neighbors to negotiate your solar panel installation.

Negotiating a Solar Power Installation with Your HOA

If your HOA says no to your solar panel installation, you don’t have to take that as a final answer. While it should go without saying that you shouldn’t go behind the board’s back and install your solar panels anyway, you can work with them and ask them to hear you out.

Take the time to go to board meetings and discuss your desire for solar power with board members. Explain the benefits of solar panels, including their potential to significantly increase the resale value of homes.

If the association is hesitant to approve your request, you’ll need to work with them. You may need to get an exemption from restrictive covenants, get a waiver from specific restrictions, or modify your system so that it conforms to requirements.

Consider making proposals for solutions that they might find agreeable, such as placing panels out of public view or even doing a ground mount instead of using your roof. If you go this route, it’s a good idea to approach board members with a proposal for a larger system than you truly intend to install so that you can make concessions for a size reduction that will ultimately still work for your solar power needs.

If you need help working with your HOA, talk to your installer. They are likely to be well versed in working with HOAs and know how to deal with compliance issues and negotiations. They can work with you and your HOA to find a solution that makes everyone happy.

Modify Your Community Bylaws

If you can’t get anywhere with board members, try the rest of your neighbors. HOA board members abide by community bylaws, and if your neighborhood petitions or votes for a change to the bylaws that would allow for solar panel installations, they can be changed. Typically, you’ll need about 75% of property owners to agree to change the rule.

While it’s not always an easy route to solar panel approval, getting solar power for your home is certainly worth it. Whether you live in a state with solid solar access protection and reasonable HOAs, or your HOA clams up at the mere mention of solar power, it’s a good idea to take whatever necessary steps you should to make solar power a reality for your home. Low energy costs, environmental benefits, and excellent home resale values await.

Photo by Flickr user jonsowman