What to know about HOAs and solar
What to know about HOAs and solar
Making the move to solar is an exciting decision. But for thousands of homeowners around the country, there's an added step — getting approval from your homeowners association (HOA). HOAs are charged with maintaining the neighborhood's atmosphere, performing duties such as collecting fees for park maintenance and enforcing rules about the appearance of homes.
This is where your solar plans may be of interest to them. In 23 states, HOAs are still allowed to prohibit residential solar installations. The rest of the states have laws that make it illegal to do so; however, HOAs may still be unaware of the limits to their rules.
Fortunately, there are multiple strategies for navigating potential HOA challenges to your residential solar power systems. Start by understanding your specific rights and then develop a plan to help make your solar dreams a reality.
The HOA Question: Will They Allow Your Solar Panels?
There are more than 370,000 homeowner associations in the U.S. HOAs represent upwards of 40 million households and 53% of all homeowners. Indeed, these private organizations wield substantial power over what homeowners do with their homes. In many cases, HOAs use their power for good—ensuring that homes meet a standard that benefits the look and feel of the neighborhood and keeps property values high.
Sometimes, though, HOAs can pose challenges to homeowners interested in installing solar panels. In states without protective legislation, HOAs can still decline solar projects. One Indiana resident, for example, is taking his case to the state's general assembly after his HOA demanded he remove his recently installed solar panels. In North Carolina, homeowners are suing restrictive HOAs, hoping that they'll eliminate restrictions on solar projects.
"When we're assessing a home, the first few questions are going to be, 'Who's your utility?' and 'Do you have an HOA?'" Brandon Pendry, communications specialist at Southern Energy Management, recently told the Energy News Network. "(Without HOA approval) nothing else matters. It is essentially the big gate key at the beginning."
Even in states that do restrict HOAs' ability to regulate solar panels, homeowners can run into trouble. Virginia, for example, passed a law that makes it illegal for HOAs to prohibit solar panels on residential roofs. However, the law includes an exemption for developer-controlled HOAs, meaning that developers can amend neighborhood covenants — and have, in the past — to restrict solar panels on homes.
Changing HOA Policies
While HOA challenges may be frustrating, homeowners can take action. Certainly, improved legislation at the state and federal level will help, and organizations such as Solar United Neighbors are fighting this good fight daily. But in the meantime, follow these tips for encouraging your HOA to approve your solar panel project:
1. Know your rights. Research your state laws regarding HOAs and solar panel projects. Both Solar United Neighbors and the Community Associations Institution provide state-specific information on solar rights and easements. You'll also want to dig into your HOA rules so that you understand exactly what's permitted — and if solar panels are expressly prohibited. Depending on where you reside, you may find that your HOA rules are outdated and don't comply with your state's solar access laws.
2. Get support from your neighbors. So, what can you do if your HOA does prohibit solar panels? One of your first steps should be to rally support from others in your neighborhood. Craft a petition to allow solar panels and gather signatures from as many neighbors as possible. HOAs aren't required to be democratic, but the neighbors usually elect the board members. A groundswell of support for solar panels that includes testimony and advocacy from multiple homeowners in the area can help sway a board's position or convince them that the current rules no longer make sense.
3. Understand concerns and dispel myths. Unsurprisingly, many of the HOA rules prohibiting solar panels on homes are rooted in longstanding myths and unfounded worries. For example, HOA boards in the past may have assumed that solar panels detract from a home's value or hinder the neighborhood aesthetic. But research shows that homebuyers are willing to pay more for homes with solar power systems. In addition, the designs of solar panels vary wildly and can blend in easily with more architecture.
4. Ask your board to take action. Once you've educated yourself and gathered support, schedule a meeting with your HOA board. Present your findings and make your case for why solar is a smart choice for your home and how it adds value to the existing neighborhood. Be prepared to answer questions and provide follow-up information so that board members have everything they need to make a decision. Advocate for the board to revamp its solar policies and create solar-positive rules that allow homeowners to take advantage of renewable energy sources.
5. Follow up frequently. If the HOA board decision doesn't go your way, don't give up. Continue to provide information to the board as new legislation and research about the benefits of solar panels come up. Participate in HOA board elections and even consider running for a position yourself. Continue your advocacy, knowing that you may be able to make a difference sooner than you think.
Many HOAs Have No Problem With Solar Panels — But Don’t Give Up if Yours Does
More and more homeowners are becoming interested in solar panels. And HOAs have the opportunity to get on board. Make your case, and you'll open up a world of solar possibility for yourself and your community.