If you’re a member of a Home Owner’s Association (HOA), you are probably aware of the high standards of your community, which maintain the neighborhood aesthetic and protect property values. Because of this, there are likely strict rules about what you can do to the exterior of your home. You may have to request permission from your HOA when you renovate or alter anything that will affect the look of your home or lawn – including solar panels. If you are interested in solar panels but aren’t sure how the HOA will react, consider the regulations regarding paneling and how much authority an HOA actually has.
HOA Solar Laws Vary by State
Laws regarding solar paneling vary depending on where you live. States have either solar access rights or solar easements. If you live in a state with solar access rights, no one can mess with your right to access solar energy. That means your HOA can’t keep you from installing solar on your property.
In some areas, however, HOAs can still dictate how you install solar. You may not be able to place panels on your roof. Historic districts often restrict installation that detracts from the structure or aesthetics of the property. HOAs can also dictate other aspects of placement. For instance, they often place restrictions that require rooftop solar panels not be visible from the street and that they match the color of your roof shingles. They might also require flush-mounted panels or regulate against ground mounted solar. Sometimes, regulations can add so many extra costs to installation, the owner isn’t able to afford it.
If your state is on this list, you currently have solar access rights:
Solar access laws protect your right to install solar, and solar easements secure your right to have sunshine on your home.
If you need to run electrical wiring on your property and it will have to go through your neighbor’s yard, you might negotiate an easement with them to do so. They don’t have to let you, but they’re usually willing, either because they’re being neighborly or because you offer them money.
Solar easements follow the same principle. If something on your neighbor’s land blocks sunlight from reaching your solar panels, you can negotiate a solar easement to remove or alter the obstruction. Your neighbor doesn’t have to help you, but it’s an option for both of you.
Solar easements should be written agreements that specify where the easement exists and any restrictions involved. Include any compensation and terms for termination.
Some states are extremely protective of your right to solar energy. In 1978, California enacted the Solar Rights Act, limiting HOAs and local governments so they could not prevent solar panel installation. The Solar Shade Control Act bans tree branches that cast shade on solar panels. The state also supports solar easement when neighbors negotiate agreements to make solar systems more effective.
New York has zoning rules to protect solar access rights. Some local legislation regulates tree height. Other areas restrict the height of new construction if it might cast shade on someone else’s property.
Look Up Your State's Solar Laws
To find out what laws affect your home, look up your state in the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE). The database allows you to search for both state and local regulations. First choose your state from the list, then filter by “Solar/Wind Access Policies.” When you find laws for your area, also check zoning ordinances and building codes.
Know Your HOA
Once you know your rights, find the policies and restrictions for your HOA. They act as a mini-government for your neighborhood and, in many case, have the authority to regulate what goes on.
While HOAs offer benefits like protecting your community’s appearance, keeping maintenance needs down, providing recreational amenities and resolving disputes, they can be an irritant when they prevent homeowners from making choices they see as beneficial.
HOA regulations are generally established by a committee or board of directors and enforced either by property management or volunteers. Get to know who is in charge and how to submit requests if you want something prohibited by the association.
Appearance regulations often interfere when homeowners want to install solar. Here are the most common restrictions:
Solar panel placement
Tolerances for wind-load
If you haven’t yet, drive through your neighborhood to see if any of your neighbors have installed solar systems and how their systems have been situated. If they have, talk to them about how they approached the HOA.
How to Reach an Agreement on Solar Panels
When discussing solar paneling with your HOA, come ready to explain the process in detail. Gather information on what you would like to install. Be prepared to submit pictures, product specifications and diagrams of where you’ll have it installed.
Remember that your HOA is a good thing, and their objective is to protect property values. Solar systems improve the value of your home, so it’s possible for you both to get what you want, but you may have to negotiate before you reach a compromise.
If your HOA’s requirements seem unreasonable or make installation too expensive, explore your options. A few questions to consider are:
Is it possible for the HOA to exempt your system from restrictive covenants?
Is there a way you can modify your system to meet building or exterior appearance regulations?
Once you have answers to these questions, talk to your neighbors. Discuss how solar can help you reduce your carbon footprint and add value to the neighborhood as a whole. Other property owners might be interested in adding solar to their homes but might be afraid the HOA won’t allow it. If so, there’s strength in numbers.