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Fighting for Solar – Know Your Rights

SEPCO 9/5/13 10:05 AM
Solar Panels on Home
Solar panels on house roof


With all the benefits of using solar power becoming more widely realized, many homeowners are looking to put solar panels on their roof to offset their electric bills while also helping the environment. Many communities and HOAs do not like these solar installations and will try to tell you that the installation is not allowed. This is completely untrue and knowing your rights will help you fight for your solar rights. I received a great email from Solar Citizen that explains just how you can fight for your rights and I had to share with you.


Rights of the HOA

HOAs are allowed to impose reasonable restrictions on the members of the community, especially when installing solar on their roofs. These restrictions can include forcing the homeowner to install the solar panels on first floor roofs, shady fenced in yards and can restrict the size and visibility of the solar array. This is all to promote peace of mind and reduce eyesores due to glare for the rest of the community.


HOAs can also use legal caveats to deny installations outright as to preserve or increase property values (doesn't solar add to your value, not take away?) or keep with the standard brand appearance of the community. These types of clauses need to be challenged and the law needs to be changed.


Solar Access Laws

Since HOAs are taking the above actions, several states have enacted legal protections for homeowners who want to go solar. These may not interfere with reasonable restrictions, but they can prevent HOAs from making punitive demands on members. The Solar Rights Act that California implemented serves as a model to the other states implementing laws to protect homeowners.


This was once geared to HOAs, but has now been expanded to include municipal and regional government bodies as well. It also covers state-sponsored solar energy grants and protects people living in multi-unit residences like apartments or condominiums.


Florida's Solar Rights Law is a lot like California's; however, it specifically overrides any HOA bylaws that restrict the installation of rooftop solar panels. This basically means that, no matter where you live in Florida, you have the right to install solar on your roof. Massachusetts goes one step further by nullifying existing and future HOA restrictions to solar as well as from restricting trimming and clearing of vegetation that obscures the solar panels.


Remedies for Homeowners

The first thing a homeowner can do is try to persuade their HOA to abstain from unreasonable restrictions on solar panel installations. This requires the power of credibility; make your argument based on examples from reputable sources such as the US Energy Department or other amazing sources out there. Also bring up the increase home value due to solar panel installations. Focus on the positive aspects of installing solar and only use non-controversial sources.


If this doesn't work, try to negotiate a compromise agreement. Maybe you can get them to allow you to install on the rear facing roof, keeping the front free from solar panels. Or to trim shade trees to allow for more sun. See what you can get them to agree to.


If nothing works, you may be forced to take legal action against the HOA. There are many pro-solar organizations (such as Solar Citizen) that advise homeowners to pursue this course of action. This shows how HOA action can be arbitrary, punitive or unreasonable. This will all work to make solar available to everyone.


Remember, with all the change going on in this world, there is more ability to fight for what your rights are, especially when it comes to installing solar power on your home.