Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs) exist to protect the property values of the homes within the association. To achieve this goal, HOAs sometimes restrict the renovations and alterations homeowners are “allowed” to do to their homes – including solar installations. As a homeowner, you may be ready to take advantage of the benefits of solar energy, but if you have an HOA for your property you’ll probably need to get their permission first.
Fortunately, solar access is becoming increasingly protected by states and local governments across the country. In this article, we break down solar access rights, where those rights are protected, and how to work with your HOA to install solar panels on your property.
- Solar access rights protect a citizen’s right to go solar; they vary by state and are currently not established country-wide.
- There are two major types of solar access rights: solar access laws and solar easements.
- Solar access laws are state-level laws that prohibit or limit restrictions on solar installations.
- Solar easements are voluntary agreements that protect your right to sunlight and prevent obstructions, such as trees or structures on a neighbor’s lawn, that cast shade on your solar panels.
- Declining costs and increasing incentives make an investment in solar highly valuable – use the EnergySage Marketplace to browse local installers and compare quotes today!
What’s in this article?
- Can my HOA prevent me from installing solar panels?
- Solar access rights: laws and easements
- What states have solar access rights?
- What if you live in a state that doesn’t have solar access laws?
Can my HOA prevent me from installing solar panels?
The short answer is, it depends on where you live. If your state requires approval for the installation, an HOA can prevent you from installing solar panels by rejecting the proposal. Notably, some HOAs will deny solar installations for aesthetic reasons. Part of their responsibility to uphold the property value of your neighborhood is to maintain uniformity, and a solar array can disrupt that. Luckily, as more states are realizing the benefits of clean energy and solar continues to grow, solar access rights are becoming more common.
Solar access rights: laws and easements
There are two major types of solar access rights that protect a citizen’s rights to go solar: solar access laws and solar easements. Both protect your ability to generate solar electricity for your home, but each addresses a different roadblock for homeowners.
Solar access laws
Solar access laws are state-level laws that prohibit or limit restrictions on solar installations. If you live in a state that has a solar access law, your HOA cannot legally prohibit you from installing solar on your property. However, most of these laws still allow for some solar restrictions. Common restrictions that HOAs put on solar installations include requiring flush-mounted panels, prohibiting ground-mounted solar panels, requiring that rooftop installations aren’t visible from the public right-of-way, and using equipment that matches the color of the roof. These sorts of restrictions can make it difficult, or costly, for a homeowner to go solar.
While solar access laws protect your right to install solar on your roof, solar easements provide a legal avenue for homeowners to protect their home’s access to sunshine. In states with solar easements, property owners can negotiate with their neighbors to protect their right to sunlight and prevent obstructions, such as trees or structures on a neighbor’s lawn, that cast shade on their panels.
Unlike solar access laws, solar easements are voluntary. If you negotiate a solar easement for your home, it needs to be carried out in writing. Solar easements require a detailed description of the dimensions of where the easement will exist (i.e., the space horizontally and vertically above your rooftop), as well as height restrictions on various parts of the neighboring property. They also may include terms for the easement’s termination, any compensation being offered in exchange for creating and maintaining the easement, or even fees to be paid if the easement is violated.
Historic districts and solar restrictions
Cheap solar panels vary Historic districts may have similar rights to restrict certain solar installations in the name of historic preservation. While installation restrictions at historic properties can vary depending on the district or property in question, they typically include stipulations to protect both the structure and the aesthetics of the historic property.
What states have solar access rights?
Currently, all but 10 states have policies regarding solar access rights at the state level; Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming don’t specifically address solar access rights. In addition to solar access laws and easements, many states have additional provisions to protect your solar access rights. These laws are constantly changing; the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) offers comprehensive information about state and local solar access rights. Let’s take a look at examples from two of our biggest states with hot solar markets: California and New York.
California established the Solar Rights Act in 1978, which limits the ability of HOAs and local governments to prevent the installation of solar panel systems. In addition, all property owners in the Golden State enjoy solar easement rights, which they can carry out on a case-by-case basis with their neighbors. California also has the Solar Shade Control Act, which prohibits tree branches from shading solar panels (applicable if the tree was planted after the solar energy system was installed).
Like California, New York prohibits HOAs from unreasonably restricting the installation of solar panel systems and allows property owners to negotiate solar easements. In addition, some towns and cities in New York have zoning rules that allow for solar access protection. For example, some local zoning rules limit the height of certain types of vegetation that might shade solar panels, or limit the height of new buildings altogether. These zoning laws vary throughout the state.
What if you live in a state that doesn’t have solar access laws?
If you’re not able to leverage solar access laws at the state level, don’t worry, it’s still possible to go solar as an HOA member! To start, make sure you understand the existing solar policies at the state, local, and organizational levels. As previously mentioned, towns and cities may have their own solar policies, so it’s worth looking into even if you live in a state without solar access laws. Additionally, it’s important to understand the HOA bylaws as they relate to solar panels if you intend to negotiate a solar panel installation.
If you’re trying to get approval from your HOA board, reinforce the positive benefits of solar homes in the neighborhood: it helps property owners save money, can increase your property’s value, and decreases the carbon footprint of your neighborhood. The solar industry also helps support your local economy!
You can also get other property owners in the neighborhood on board and show solidarity. If you’re still having trouble getting approval from your HOA for solar panels, look at possible technology alternatives: some might be okay with solar shingles or other solar technologies that still help you save money.
HOAs and community solar
Solar access rights are expanding across the country, and many HOAs are willing to work with homeowners to allow solar panel systems that comply with their bylaws. However, HOAs may still deny solar panel installation requests in areas not protected by solar access rights. In this case, community solar provides homeowners with the opportunity to go solar without installing anything on their property.
Community solar works like this: a large-scale solar array, also called a solar farm, is developed and connected to the local grid. Residents and organizations serviced by that utility are eligible to subscribe to a portion of the solar farm and receive credits on their electric bills. Typically, subscribers save anywhere from 5 to 15 percent annually on their electric bills. If you find yourself unable to install rooftop solar but still want to participate in solar energy, check out EnergySage’s Community Solar Marketplace to explore community solar projects near you!
Explore solar options on EnergySage
Solar energy is a long-lasting, cost-cutting, emission-free electricity solution that continues to evolve to meet the needs of ratepayers and the natural environment. Between declining costs and increasing incentives, an investment in solar is extremely valuable. The EnergySage Marketplace provides qualified quote comparisons from local installers to help you find a solar system that fits both your energy and budget needs. Sign up to receive free quotes from qualified, pre-vetted installers so you can start the process of going solar today!
This original version of this article appeared at The HomeSource.