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Your HOA and Solar Panels: Navigating a Tricky Relationship

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The letters HOA for Homeowners Association over residential homes with solar panels and solar power.
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Your neighborhood’s Homeowners Association (HOA) can provide several benefits. The group can implement rules to protect the community's aesthetic, manage a reserve fund for maintenance and other periodic needs, have special assessments for unexpected expenses, and raise funds for shared amenities such as pools and tennis courts. However, your HOA can also be an obstacle to installing solar panels, and you may need to navigate this relationship to successfully go solar.

Many HOA solar panel rules attempt to supersede state, county, and city laws regarding the rights of individual homeowners to install solar power systems on their property. Thankfully, it's possible to navigate these rules and enjoy clean solar energy if you play your cards right.

While it's impossible to analyze the terms of every single HOA, this article will provide a thorough investigation of:

  • What your HOA can and cannot control
  • Solar access laws
  • Solar easement regulations
  • Common reasons an HOA might try to restrict solar panel installations
  • How solar companies like Palmetto can help you overcome those restrictions

With this information, you can navigate your HOA and get the solar power you want for your home.

Can My HOA Stop Me From Installing Solar Panels?

The short answer should be “No” but it depends on the terms of the HOA agreement you signed when you moved into your home. Your HOA may be able to limit how and where you can install home solar power systems. Your HOA may also be able to outright ban the installation of photovoltaic (PV) systems within your planned community.

Here's the good news: Nearly 50% of US states have laws protecting the rights of homeowners to own and produce solar power on their property. Thus, it’s essential that you understand the power your HOA really has, what they can and cannot do, and your rights according to the solar access laws and solar easement regulations in your area.

What Your HOA Can and Cannot Control

First things first: What degree of control does your HOA actually have over your solar power generation? Stated another way, your goal should be to look for ways you can install solar panels without breaking HOA rules and regulations.

To help answer this question, let’s address three considerations:

  • Read the HOA rules in depth: HOA bylaws that prohibit solar panels mainly stem from the belief that this equipment can drastically change the exterior look of the homes in your neighborhood and reduce home values. Take the initiative to educate yourself about your HOA guidelines so you can better compare them to the latest solar access laws.
  • Talk to a lawyer or real estate agent for advice: Yes, solar access laws created by the government might override the HOA rules limiting solar panels installations, but many of these laws still allow the HOA to implement a few restrictions. Your best bet is to talk to an experienced realtor or lawyer for help reconciling the two sides. Taking the matter before the courts should be your last resort.
  • Talk to a sympathetic member of the HOA board: The thought of suing your HOA doesn't sound appealing, especially in terms of the time and money spent, not to mention the hurt feelings. Instead, talking to a friend serving on the HOA board of directors may work wonders. Be sure to help them understand how solar power can benefit everyone in terms of the environment, home value, and energy costs.

Review Solar Access Laws in Your Area

Solar access laws, established by solar rights act laws in many states, exist to protect people’s right to install solar panels on their homes and use that solar energy. They also protect homeowners from any attempts at banning solar panels or restricting solar installation.

However, these laws differ from state to state, so you must do your due diligence and research your rights in your region before taking up the issue with your HOA. That way, if your HOA isn't aware of your rights or attempts to violate them, you can let them know.

HOAs may still be allowed to implement "reasonable restrictions".  For example, some of these rules let HOAs influence your rooftop solar array's design. You may also have to ask for permission to install your panels and ensure they're not visible from the public right-of-way.

Review Solar Easement Laws in Your Area

Solar access laws and solar easement laws are two sides of the same coin. If solar access laws give you the right to install solar panels, solar easement regulations make it easier to enjoy solar power's benefits.

Solar easements give you a legal avenue to protect your right to sunlight. They give you the power to negotiate with your neighbors to remove trees or other obstructions on their property that reduce your home's access to sunlight.

It’s important to recognize that these laws are voluntary. You have the right to ask people to remove trees on their property that hang over yours, but the rules can be difficult to enforce, especially if your HOA isn’t a solar energy fan. Luckily, any solar easements agreement you create with a neighbor should stay in effect, even if new property owners take over the neighboring home.

Even if these laws are voluntary, any agreement you create should be in writing and notarized. While your specific terms might vary, a general statement should include the following:

  • The space where the easement is in effect (the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the area above your rooftop)
  • Terms for the easement termination
  • Any compensation for the creation and maintenance of the easement
  • Any fees or consequences for violation of the easement

Common HOA Solar Panel Restrictions

HOAs may think they have good reasons for not allowing solar panel installations in the neighborhood. In most cases, their solar panel rules may have been in place for a long time and need updating. Inevitably, most solar panel restrictions usually boil down to two reasons: Property Values and Historic District Laws.

Protecting Homeowners and Property Values

Most HOA rules concern the preservation of property values and safety. They argue that solar panels are ugly, so having them on roofs lowers the neighborhood’s property values.

The solar industry and its technologies have steadily improved over the past several decades. Therefore, a Home Owners Association (especially in older subdivisions) may not understand the advances that have been made in terms of solar panel appearance, operations, and impact.

If appearance is their common concern, the bluish tint of traditional solar panels has mostly been replaced by more efficient black panels that match well with most shingles. Also, the outdoor wiring that transfers electricity from the panels to the inverter can be hidden or painted to blend well with the exterior of your home.

Your homeowners association may also worry that panels emit glares that can disrupt views or even cause a fire. Thankfully, those are unfounded myths. In fact, solar panels are specifically designed to absorb the maximum possible solar energy to optimize electricity production, meaning good solar panels should never reflect light.

Your HOA may also be interested to learn that solar panels can often boost property values. For example, a 2019 study conducted by Zillow found that “homes with solar-energy systems sold for 4.1% more on average than comparable homes without solar power.”

Historic District Laws

In an effort to preserve their traditional authenticity, historical buildings are often exempted from modern energy-efficient improvements, giving them a significant carbon footprint. While it can be a good idea to maintain older buildings for the sake of education and culture, problems arise when HOAs borrow these restrictions on solar for nearby residential neighborhoods. Thus, they restrict solar panel installations by using the wider city, county, and state laws protecting the look and feel of historic districts.

However, some of these laws have been updated or have loopholes. You can work with your HOA to bring them up to speed on how the latest solar panels and other clean energy technologies can generate power without compromising historic integrity.

Our recommendations include: 

  • Install low-profile panels that are flat or in line with your roof's slope
  • Hide the panels away from the primary facade, architectural features, and the roof's edge
  • Ensure the installation is reversible
  • Match the mounting equipment color so it blends well with existing roof materials
  • Install the PV system in a location that doesn’t obstruct public visibility in any common area
  • Avoid removing or replacing historic roofing materials when installing solar panels
  • Maintain the roof or building's existing features and configuration

How to Get HOA Approval for Solar Panels

If you can’t tell, we believe that it’s best to work with your HOA, not against them. When planning how to get HOA approval for solar panels, approach your conversations from the perspective that everyone really does want the same thing: A happy, healthy, and safe neighborhood.

Thus, it helps to have water-tight evidence, reasons, and statistics to back up your case and win the HOA board members over to your side. In addition, you can also petition individual homeowners in your community before going to the board to help pursue an exception or wholesale rule change.

Convince Your HOA Board with Clear Benefits of Solar

The relationship between HOAs and solar panels may not be the smoothest one, especially if people believe that the technology could change the exterior appearance of homes significantly. However, you can help convince your HOA by citing the many benefits that come with solar panels:

  • Reduced Energy Bills: The savings on your energy bills can be significant. In areas that allow for net metering, some homeowners can even contribute extra power back to the utility grid when they generate more electricity than they can use.
  • More Affordable: According to the Department of Energy, the last few years have witnessed tremendous growth in solar technology. The costs associated with solar energy are plummeting, encouraging more people to make the switch.
  • Low Maintenance Cost: An occasional cleaning and yearly maintenance are all your solar panels need to maintain maximum output. You can clean the solar panels on your own, or let the rain and wind do the job. Many solar panel owners also enroll in full-service protection plans to make sure all their maintenance and checkup needs are covered.
  • Elegant Design: Thanks to the latest technologies, most panels are less bulky and more appealing than ever before. After seeing what a modern installation looks like, many HOAs will drop their long-held misconceptions about the alleged ‘ugliness’ of solar.
  • Federal Tax Credits: The United States has a Solar Tax Credit to help homeowners with the upfront costs of solar panel system installation. Some states even offer additional incentives and rebates to help lower those prices further.
  • Improved Home Values: Solar panels can help boost a property's value. In fact, research has found out that for every $1 saved in energy costs annually, home value can increase by $20.
  • Helps Our Environment: Traditional electricity contributes to climate change because of the greenhouse gas emissions made by burning natural gas and fossil fuels. Solar energy is pure and clean, so more solar installations will help reduce the carbon footprint of the whole HOA community.

How Palmetto Works with HOAs

If you’re planning to negotiate with your HOA to get approval for the installation of residential solar panels, it's not going to be a walk in the park in some cases. Thankfully, working with a reputable solar company like Palmetto can help the process flow more smoothly.

At Palmetto, our representatives and solar power installers have years of experience working with all manner of HOAs. They're ready to offer guidance and advice about the process, and help explain the pros and cons of solar panels that you can use to your advantage when talking to your HOA.

  • Understand your state's laws: As discussed earlier, solar access laws vary from state to state and can sometimes be confusing. Palmetto can help you learn about what laws impact you most.
  • Know the HOA solar panel rules: HOA requirements regarding the placement and design of solar panels can significantly impact your system's price and other installation aspects. We can help you navigate these rules, especially if you've just moved to a new area.
  • Expedite the solar panel approval process: The trick to winning over your HOA board members is to educate them on how solar panels can help them. From boosting their home values, lowering energy costs, protecting the environment, and more, we’ll help you present a strong case and strike a win-win agreement.

Key Takeaways

  • Negotiating with an HOA can be a tricky process. It helps to start by learning everything you can about solar access laws and how they relate to your HOA laws.
  • Your HOA isn't necessarily the enemy; they usually just want what's best for the neighborhood. Convincing them to let you go solar might help other people, too.
  • Knowing your rights and the benefits of solar energy can help you communicate with your HOA.
  • Working with an established solar panel installer like Palmetto will give you access to resources and information about solar energy that you can use to your advantage.

Get started today with a Free Solar Savings Estimate, and find out how much you can save by making the switch. Once you decide to go solar, our experts can review your situation and provide recommendations about the size and requirements of a solar system that's right for your home.

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