How to Convince Your Homeowner’s Association (HOA) to Allow Solar PanelsBy Matthew Wheeland - August 30, 2010
The HOA Challenge
If you live in a neighborhood that has a homeowner’s association, you know that HOAs have a lot of power: they can control your home color, what kinds of plants you have in your yard, what kind of lawn furniture, even how many pets you can own. Some HOAs even say that you can’t have solar panels. We’ve laid out a strategy here for anyone working to get their HOA to change their solar policy.
Use the law
The majority of states have “solar access” laws, and some of these laws include provisions that say your HOA can’t restrict your right to have solar panels (in some cases these are separate from solar access, and called “solar rights” laws). If you live in Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, or Wisconsin, the law overrides any HOA contract that says you can’t have solar panels. That doesn’t mean the HOA can’t tell you where to put your solar panels, or how to install them– these laws usually say that some restrictions are possible. But if your HOA is saying that you can’t have solar panels at all, you can show them the law, or, in the worst case scenario, sue them. Importantly, these laws typically state that HOAs can’t deliberately try to delay the installation of your new solar system.
What if the HOA’s “reasonable restrictions” are becoming unreasonable?
As mentioned above, laws protecting the right to solar panels tend to say that “reasonable restrictions” are okay. Your HOA could possibly require you to buy a certain type of panel, or ask you to install the panels in a place that isn’t visible. This type of restriction is okay as long as it doesn’t go too far. Under California law, for example, restrictions become unreasonable when they increase the cost of your solar system by more than $2,000, or if they reduce the power output by more than 20%. If you don’t like what your HOA is proposing, you can work with your solar installer to show figures about cost and efficiency. See Scott Gordon’s great blog post for more tips on this.
What if my state doesn’t have a law protecting my right to solar panels?
It’s possible that there may be a federal law in the future that protects the rights of all Americans to have solar panels. The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454) would make it illegal for HOA rules, leases, and other private contracts to prohibit solar panels. H.R. 2454 passed the House of Representatives last year, but it’s unclear when or if it may pass the Senate and become law. Two other bills (H.R. 2848 and S. 1016) have similar provisions protecting the right to solar panels. If you want to fight for your right to go solar, one thing you can do is contact your senator and ask them to support H.R. 2454. In the meantime, you can try winning your HOA over with persuasive arguments, as we’ve outlined next.
Win your HOA over with logic (and a bit of emotion)
- Solar power increases the value of your home. For every $1 you save in annual electric costs, your house jumps up $20 in value [PDF]. This video explains more about how solar panels increase the value of your home.
- Solar panels can be beautiful. We know beauty is subjective, but we’ve seen some pretty gorgeous solar homes. Check out a collection of ten of them here.
- Solar panels help protect our children’s future. If the person you’re talking with has kids or grandkids, appeal to their sense of responsibility – solar panels have major environmental benefits and can help fight one of our biggest challenges for the future, climate change. Energy production pollutes even more than cars do– the majority of the power plants in the U.S. run on dirty coal. That pollution adds not only to climate change, but to serious health problems like asthma, chronic bronchitis, and lowered resistance to infections.
- Solar panels protect energy independence. Since climate change can be a sticky issue, you might want to take a different approach, and talk about how using free American sunshine will help untangle us from relying on foreign oil.
- Solar panels will help you save a bundle of money. You could argue that, by freeing up the money that used to go into your monthly utility bills, you’ll have more cash to spend on other beautifying improvements for your yard and house.
- It’s possible no one will even see your solar panels. Depending on the orientation of your house and roof, your solar panels may face your backyard, or sit at an angle that isn’t even visible.
Good luck! If you’ve worked with your HOA to get solar panels, please share your experience in the comments below. Feel free to contact us if you have questions on going solar, and sign up for PURE (it’s free!) to get access to our exclusive group discounts on solar.