Homeowner’s associations, or HOAs, are – as we who have lived in them know – able to prevent residents from using a certain color of paint, or even hanging a certain kind of window covering in their homes. But defiance, should you put up a fight, can sometimes lead to an ongoing nightmare on the scale of Freddie Kruger, et al.
The Larry Lohrman Case
Fortunately, individual states began stepping into the solar installation fray decades ago. In Oregon, for example, where Larry Lohrman went head to head with his association, a little-known state law from 1979 already protected his right to install solar panels on his property.
Unfortunately, Lohrman, like so many, didn’t know about it and had to work out guidelines with his HOA to install his solar panels.
Similar events are occurring nationwide, as HOAs – long used to being the final authority on what property owners can and cannot do – find themselves increasingly stymied by renewable energy laws that protect solar power installations while still permitting HOAs to maintain some control of a solar panel’s appearance, location, etc.
Which States are Protected from HOAs?
These laws, established in 2009 in Delaware, Maine, Vermont and Washington, and in 2008 in Maryland, North Carolina (SB 670 and HB 1387), and Virginia, followed in the footsteps of California’s Solar Right Act of 1978 (which was extended, as was Oregon’s 1979 law).
Solar Rights, or Solar Access, laws also prevail in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. While in Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Utah, state-mandated guidelines offer homeowners varied leeway in installing solar panels.
All are available on the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy’s, or DSIRE’s, website. DSIRE also regularly updates both solar access laws and solar incentives on a state-by-state basis.
Battling Your HOA
If you, as a homeowner, are struggling with your HOA, first check with DSIRE to see if there is a law protecting your right to install solar, and to what extent you are protected. If you are, check with local and city building inspectors and confirm your position.
If necessary, hire a lawyer. You may pay initial costs, but your HOA will be stuck at the end picking up the entire legal tab, as in California when Marc Weinburg pushed his case for solar panels, and in Tennessee, when Al Gore ran into an obstinate local zoning board.
Our thanks to 1BOG (aka One Block Off the Grid) for tackling the thorny issue of getting your homeowner’s association to approve solar panels. For more information, check out their article here.
1BOG, which started life as a San Francisco solar company aimed at bringing down solar prices by bulk (community) buying, is also a solar activist organization aimed at freeing the nation (and the world) from its dependency on non-renewable power sources.