Homeowners Associations (HOAs) usually have very strict rules regarding use of property. Allegedly, the rules are to protect property values and to keep the neighborhood looking clean and uniform. They typically include items such as take your garbage cans from the curb within 24 hours after garbage pickup, maintenance of lawns and gardens, and approval from a committee regarding paint colors or additions to your home (whether a deck, patio or even certain sports equipment). Are you allowed to install solar panels in an HOA? Like most legal questions, the answer is: it depends!
While you may be tempted to disregard HOA rules when planning to install solar panels on your home, I can tell you from experience that you’d be making a poor decision. As an attorney, I am often hired to represent HOA Boards of Directors when it comes to enforcing violations of HOA rules (also known as CCRs – Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions). CCRs are recorded against the property that you buy, which means that (1) you are put on notice of them when you purchase your home; and (2) they are legal and enforceable as a contract you make to all the other property owners in your subdivision.
Here’s one circumstance in which a homeowner tried to do the right thing energy-wise, but is facing a potential lawsuit by his HOA:
So, how can you navigate the potential hassles of dealing with an HOA when you want to install solar panels on your home? We’lll go through them step-by-step.
First, review your CCRs and even the HOA by-laws to determine if there are explicit prohibitions against solar panels. Most will not be that specific. However, they may require approval for any outdoor installation, such as a dish network. Solar panels will fall within that definition.
Second, even if your CCRs are clear, you should definitely determine whether there are additional regulating documents such as by-laws that may apply to the installation of solar panels.
The third tip is that, if you are not sure whether or not you can install solar panels in your neighborhood, either ask the Board of Directors, or hire an attorney! You will need to get the best advice possible before you spend the money and time for a solar array. Most people will say that even if your lawyer says you can put up solar panels, you should still check with the regulating body in your association. Many times, the Board of Directors is merely reactionary to complaining voices. They may not be adverse to solar panels, but some loud-mouthed neighbors could be!
As with landlords, you will likely be able to negotiate with the Board of Directors to allow solar panels in your area, particularly if they are not specifically disallowed. If the governing body of your HOA appears to be resistant, be prepared with positive facts about solar energy and the overall savings and environmental impact of switching to renewable resources. You should also consider getting support from like-minded residents in the subdivision. They can back you up when you make a presentation to the governing body.
The fourth and final tip is: don’t take my word for it! Each individual HOA is unique – from the people involved to the CCRs and other rules. You may have a great experience negotiating with an HOA in Montana, and a terrible time with the very same facts in Georgia.
Be aware that solar panels are still being accepted – very slowly – in many neighborhoods. Do your homework, make your best case possible, and don’t take no for an answer! I wish you all the best in your quest to install solar panels in your own subdivision!