by Andrew Parslow
As technology inevitably changes over time so too must architectural standards and the laws that govern them. Nowhere is this more apparent than with solar panels. Advancements in technology make it possible for homeowners to place solar panels directly on the roofs of their units. Such solar panels make it more affordable for the unit owner to provide power for their homes and reduce their impact on the environment. Unfortunately, like any feature of a home, it is possible for certain configurations of solar panels to be disruptive to a community, such as when they are too large or cross over onto another unit’s roof. The purpose of this article is to outline what options are available to an association to regulate solar panels to ensure that they do not interfere with other members of the association.
To encourage the use of home solar panels, the California legislature thought it proper to implement California Civil Code § 714(a) which, among other things, prevents homeowners associations from outright prohibiting the installation or use of solar panels within the association. While § 714(a) is broadly permissive, it is not a blank check for the implementation of solar panels in any way a member of an association likes.
The previously mentioned statue is limited by California Civil Code § 714(b), which allows associations to implement, “provisions that impose reasonable restrictions on solar energy systems.” It goes on to define reasonable restrictions as those that “do not significantly increase the cost of the system or significantly decrease its efficiency or specified performance, or that allow for an alternative system of comparable cost, efficiency, and energy conservation benefits.”
A few years after California Civil Code § 714 was implemented, the legislature further clarified additional restrictions which could be made to solar panel installations with Civil Code § 714.1. This section specified that an association may impose reasonable restrictions regarding: prohibition on the installation of solar panels in common areas without approval; requiring association approval for installing solar panels on property belonging to another; requiring the homeowner installing the solar panels repair and maintain the affected portions of the building; and require reimbursement for damage caused by the solar panels.
The best way to implement the admissible restrictions found in Civil Code §§ 714(b) and 714.1 is to impose solar panel standards in an association’s CC&Rs and Architectural guidelines. By taking a proactive approach and preparing a set standard members are more likely to construct their solar panels in a manner that is not likely to interfere with other members and the association is better prepared for a challenge if they deny a member’s disruptive solar panel structure. Such standards also have the benefit of ensuring members know the expected maintenance requirements, maximum size, and required access areas.
On the other end of the spectrum, I still frequently see governing documents that expressly restrict solar panels in violation of § 714(a). While they are no longer enforced, the presence of these inadmissible restrictions can make good faith attempts to regulate solar panels appear like a veiled attempt to impermissibly restrict their presence in an association when challenged by homeowners. Such impermissible restrictions in governing documents should be removed, so as not to interfere with the enforcement of permissible restrictions.
If you have any questions regarding the installation of solar panels in a community association or would like to change your governing documents to better allow for the restriction of disruptive solar panel configurations, we invite you to call to speak with us personally at (949) 729-8002 or email us, and our experienced attorneys will be happy to assist you.