It is fairly common knowledge among residents that the HOA has strict rules and regulations when it comes to many things regarding your home. You can’t pick up a paint brush, or swing that hammer until you get formal approval from your association. And while it would seem obvious that you cannot begin the process of adding a second story to your quaint bungalow, what about a less overt, yet auspicious addition? Something that can add not only value to your home, but make a positive impact on the environment. Where does the HOA stand on matters of the sun? What are the mandates surrounding the installation of solar paneling?
A Cautionary Tale In 2018, Joey Myles, a resident of Franklin Township, Indiana, decided that he was going to add solar panels to the roof of his home. This was something that he had always wanted to do. He told the Indy Star that, “My entire life I’ve wanted to live in a house with solar panels.” This goal was so important to Myles that he had, before purchasing his home, researched the governing documents of many associations when looking at potential homes. When he made the decision to buy his home in the Franklin Trace neighborhood, he was confident that he would be able to realize his life-long dream. The bylaws of his association stated that panels could be installed after receiving approval, so Myles was surprised when his initial request was denied, citing “aesthetic” reasons. This was just the beginning of a battle between Myles and his association, spanning months. In the end, Myles was finally granted permission to instal the panels, but only after agreeing to place them on a side of his roof that is not visible from the road, as to not affect the “aesthetic” the HOA was so desperately trying to maintain. However, by having to place the system on a different place on the roof, Myles was only able to achieve about half of the energy that he could have acquired if he was able to instal the system on the, more preferable, south side of his home. And so, like any good compromise, both parties walked away dissatisfied.
Beauty is in the Eye of the... Homeowner? As it is with Myles’ case, most arguments against solar panels have to do with the aesthetics of the neighborhood. This is something very closely monitored and guarded by homeowners associations for one reason, money. It is no secret that the overall look of the neighborhood is closely tied to the value of the homes within. This is the same reason associations will not allow your home to be painted lime green, or for you to erect that 12-foot tall statue of yourself in your front yard. Stated simply, if the panels placed on or around your home degrade the overall look of your property, then you will lower the value of, not only your own home, but also that of the homes surrounding yours. To the credit of the HOA, in doing this, they are performing exactly the job that they were created to do.
Time to Rethink. It may be time for associations to revisit their rules surrounding solar systems. While it is true that the systems of years past were not the most “aesthetically pleasing, ” presumably prompting associations to regulate or outright ban them, more modern systems have come a long way when compared to their less-attractive ancestors. In addition to the design and overall appearance of these systems improving, there may be another benefit of allowing such systems to be installed that will have them looking even better to an HOA. In recent years, there has been somewhat of a push toward solar and other renewable energy sources. Homeowners are becoming far more aware of their impact on the environment, as well as the potential financial benefit of moving away from traditional energy sources. Some studies have found that potential buyers are deliberately seeking out homes that already have these systems installed and are willing to pay more for them, making neighborhoods that allow such systems far more desirable to prospective purchasers and raising the value of the neighborhood as a whole.
The Law of the Land... and Sky While most HOAs will have some verbiage in their governing documents regarding solar, it is important to be aware of state-level regulations. Many states have laws in place, called solar access laws, that limit a homeowner’s association's ability to prohibit the insulation of solar paneling. About half of all states currently have these laws in place and if you happen to reside in one of them, your HOA cannot, outright, deny you from installing solar on your property. They can, however, regulate where and how you instal your system (as in Myles’ case). So, what should you do if you are looking toward the sky for a way to reduce your environmental impact, as well as your electric bill? First, be aware of any solar access rights, including solar access laws and solar easements, that your state may have in place. Next, refer to the governing documents of your association and (in most cases) submit a formal application. If you find yourself at odds with your association, try to initiate a clam and productive dialogue. It is possible that, through discussion, you may be able to convince enough members of your community (including board members) of the benefits of such systems, and instigate a change in the bylaws. Look at you, you overachiever. A gold star, literally, for you.