Solar panels and HOAs sometimes don’t mix

If you live in a planned neighborhood or township, you are likely part of a homeowners association, also known as the HOA. These associations manage shared facilities and establish rules for the neighborhood, most of which focus on maintaining a particular aesthetic.

For many, this often includes solar systems on the roof. Solar power is more accessible and affordable than ever, and it continues to be an increasingly attractive option for homeowners looking to harness the power of the sun.

According to the US Department of Energy, the cost of solar panels has halved since 2014, and system installations in the US have increased more than fivefold in the past decade. That number is only expected to increase if Americans want more control over their energy.

But those who live in HOAs may not have as much control as they think or hope they would.

In this edition of The Scrub Hub, our series to answer your questions, we take a look at the specifics of solar panels in HOA communities. Can a HOA prevent a homeowner from running solar?

Can HOAs Stop Home Owners From Getting Solar Panels?

In short, it really depends. Some communities allow residents to choose solar power, but many may place restrictions on where and how the modules are installed. Others, thought, the systems forbid.

In central Indiana alone, nearly 400 homeowners associations have total or partial bans, according to Zach Schalk, Indiana program director for Solar United Neighbors. That means they are likely to affect the ability of tens of thousands of homeowners to run solar, he added.

Data from other parts of the state is hard to come by, Schalk said, but this is an example of what residents elsewhere in the state are likely to experience. Many of these limitations are based on outdated technologies, such as: B. Solar collectors. These systems are often clunkier – they are used to heat liquid or air – and are now out of date.

Still, many HOAs have not updated these agreements to reflect advanced technology, so homeowners have little or no recourse when living under these restrictions.

Solar Panels and HOAs: It’s Getting Complicated

A common argument is that residents should learn about community rules before moving in. If solar is not allowed, they should live somewhere else. But it’s not always that easy.

Some districts do not explicitly mention solar in their statutes. Rather, it means that decisions that would change the exterior of the home are left to an architecture review board. That often becomes a “de facto” restriction, said Schalk, that many homeowners would not realize when they move in.

Such was the case with Joey Myles of Indianapolis. He always knew he wanted solar and would review all of the HOA statutes for the communities he and his wife were considering before purchasing. When he saw that the rules for a said solar were allowed as long as the panels were approved by the board, he assumed they were good to go.

Joey Miles stands by his home in the Franklin Trace neighborhood of Indianapolis on Wednesday, March 3, 2021.  He has been struggling with his HOA for years to bring solar energy into his home.  The panels he has now seen on the house are on the west sides of his house and have a solar skin so that they blend into the roof.  Where the panels are now is away from the street, but not from the side that gets the best sun.

About a year after Myles bought property in that community, the board said “no”.

“They said I couldn’t do it because the panels were facing the street,” Myles said. “They say they want everything to look good for real estate values.”

Many of the concerns are often aesthetic related. Part of life in a planned community has a certain look, and solar panels are believed to change that character or potentially reduce property values. However, the Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Development at the US Department of Energy says that solar energy is likely to actually add value to a home.

Myles’ neighbors signed a letter saying they didn’t mind if he got solar panels, but the board was still unresponsive. After some back and forth, the HOA finally allowed Myles to install panels, but he was only able to place them in the back of his house, facing away from the street. However, the street side gets the best sun and would be the best for solar.

Go green: HOAs challenge Hoosier’s property rights to solar panels

Myles made the compromise, but said the panels were nowhere near as productive in their north-facing location. He continued to pursue various options and recently found a product called “Solar Skin” that puts a film over the panels that makes them look like shingles. With this solution, the board allowed Myles to move the panels to the side of his house, but still not to the front.

It’s a step in the right direction, he said. The company that makes the skins has met with great interest from HOA residents looking for a similar solution.

Solar panels can be seen at Joey Miles home on Wednesday March 3, 2021 in the Franklin Trace neighborhood of Indianapolis.  He faced obstacles from his HOA to bring solar energy into his home.  He has them now, but they are not optimally oriented because they must be on the side of the house, away from the street view.

However, many states have laws in place protecting a homeowner’s right to solar power generation. At least 25 states have solar access laws, Schalk said, ensuring that HOAs can’t prohibit their members from installing solar systems on their properties. They put some “reasonable restrictions” on the systems, such as: For example, they require all cabling to be off-site and often require members to obtain permission before installing the panels.

A solar access bill has been proposed every year in Indiana since 2017, but it was ultimately never passed. It was modeled after a solar access law in Texas – which was no coincidence, according to Laura Arnold, director of Indiana Distributed Generation. She said they wanted to model Indiana’s law out of a conservative state in the hopes that it would gain more appeal.

It came closest to happening in 2019, passing through both Indiana House and the Senate. However, the bill died in the conference committee, where the legislature works trying to find agreements to amend the bill. After that, Indiana’s solar access law hasn’t even received a hearing in the past two years.

Schalk, Myles and Arnold said they continue to work with community members and HOA boards to raise awareness and update the outdated rules. There have been minor successes, said Schalk, but there is no guarantee of getting support in the neighborhood or joining the board.

Because of this, they say legislation in both Indiana and possibly the federal level is the best way to improve access to solar systems in HOA communities.

Of course, this is just an overview to get you thinking. If you’d like more details, this is the perfect opportunity to ask the scrub hub.

Submit a question using our Google form below. Can’t you see the form? Click here.

Call IndyStar reporter Sarah Bowman at 317-444-6129 or email [email protected] Follow her on Twitter and Facebook: @IndyStarSarah. Connect with IndyStar’s environmental reporters: Join The Scrub on Facebook.

IndyStar’s environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the non-profit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.

Comments are closed.