If you have a homeowner’s association (HOA) for your property, you’re probably aware that you need to get permission for certain renovations and alterations to your home. In many cases, HOAs require that you get approval for solar panel installations. This isn’t always easy – some homeowners report that their HOA denied their request for aesthetic reasons.
Luckily, many states have solar access rights that protect your right to install a solar energy system on your home. If you’re considering solar panels but have an HOA, it’s important to be aware of your solar rights as a property owner.
What Solar Access Rights Look Like
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. That being said, while solar access laws protect property owners from being denied the right to install solar on their roof, they vary from state to state. In most cases, HOAs still have the right to place restrictions on how you install solar on your property.
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.
Some of the common restrictions that HOAs and historic districts 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.
How Geography Plays a Role in 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. Let’s take a look at examples from two of our biggest states with hot solar markets: California and New York.
Solar Access Laws: California
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).
Solar Access Laws: New York
New York State, like California, allows property owners to negotiate solar easements. In addition, certain 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, so they may not exist in every town or city. Currently, there are no state-level laws regarding solar rights.
So, Can My HOA Stop Me From Going Solar?
The short answer is, it depends where you live. Luckily, as more states are realizing the benefits of clean energy and solar continues to grow, solar access rights are becoming more common. If you’re contemplating solar, the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) offers comprehensive information about state and local solar access rights. You can search by state, and then filter your results for “Solar/Wind Access Policies” to find relevant solar rights and easement laws where you live.
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, it can increase your property’s value, and it decreases the carbon footprint of the 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 from solar panels, look at possible technology alternatives: some might be okay with solar shingles or other solar technologies that still help you save money.
Author Bio: Vikram Aggarwal is the CEO & founder of EnergySage, the country’s largest online marketplace for solar. EnergySage offers homeowners a range of educational material about solar energy, a free solar calculator to estimate expected costs and benefits, and most importantly the ability to receive & compare multiple quotes from their network of over 300 pre-screened solar installers.