HOA Solar Panels
If you have thought about taking advantage of California’s sunny weather to help offset your energy costs, then you’re not alone. With consumer-use solar panels becoming more affordable and more practical, they have been exploding in popularity across the country. As private homeowners begin to utilize solar panels, the rules and regulations governing them are changing as well. In California, HOAs have rules and regulations that they can enforce on members who use HOA solar panels. Here is what you need to know if you’re considering in investing for your home.
California Solar Law
The 1978 California Solar Rights Act created the first legal framework for solar energy access. Mostly focusing on consumers, the law includes protections that allow consumers access to sunlight based on urban planning issues. The law also allows HOAs and local government organizations to prevent the installation of solar energy systems.
714. (a) Any covenant, restriction, or condition contained in any
deed, contract, security instrument, or other instrument affecting
the transfer or sale of, or any interest in, real property, and any
provision of a governing document, as defined in Section 4150 or
6552, that effectively prohibits or restricts the installation or use
of a solar energy system is void and unenforceable.
Even though explicitly prohibiting solar access is illegal, doesn’t mean HOAs haven’t found their way around this. Certain instances have been documented showing HOAs enforcing seemingly arbitrary rules around lawn ornamentation, construction guidelines, and other issues that were meant to prevent the spread of HOA solar panels for aesthetic reasons.
This changed in 2014 when the California State Legislature passed a new bill (No. 2188), that revised two parts of the Solar Rights Act. The first revision redefined what can be considered a “reasonable” restriction on a solar energy system. It effectively factors into a restriction that “significantly” increase the cost or decrease the performance of the system. In other words, it protects the consumer from laws or regulations that prevent the proper use of solar energy systems – mostly due to aesthetic considerations.
Furthermore, “Reasonable” and “significantly” are the key words here, as they are fairly non-specific. The revision helps top clarify this by stating that the significant costs cannot exceed $1,000 over the system costs, or decrease the solar energy system’s efficiency by an amount of 10% of its capability. So to put this in a real-world example, this means that your HOA cannot force you to move your solar panels to a different, less efficient location. If they attempt to force you to move your solar panels to the back of your house so they are out of the view of the street, but the back of your house also receives considerably less sunlight (such as 10% less), then this law protects against such a move, ensuring that you can get the efficiency out of your solar energy system that you’re expecting to receive.
The second revision helps to solidify these protections for the homeowner. The Government Code (65850.5) improves the inspection processes for “small residential rooftop solar energy systems”, by local governments. Which means, approval for solar panels is a lot faster and helps cut down on members wait time for processes and approval.
A Clear Path
These revisions for HOA solar panels took effect on January 1st, 2015, so we are now well into their implementation, and so far, there’s has yet to any major litigation cases that have challenged them. This is a good thing because it means that a homeowner has been properly protected in terms of their solar energy access rights, so, if you’re looking to update your home with new solar panels to help your energy costs, you can rest easy knowing that you have a clear path.