Solar panels and homeowner’s associations (HOAs) have always had a bit of a rocky relationship. Ever since solar power adoption made its way into the mainstream, HOAs have attempted to ban or impose restrictions on installations in their neighborhoods, often citing aesthetics in their bylaws banning solar panels.
Any rule breaks for homeowners living in such neighborhoods are often met with hefty fines or letters asking them to move or remove their solar systems entirely. For solar contractors operating in HOA-filled areas of the United States, these rules often result in a smaller pool of interested buyers, conflicts with entire neighborhoods, and lost sales for solar installers.
Here’s everything solar professionals need to know about HOA solar laws and how to get that coveted HOA approval for solar panels to unlock all of that potential revenue in your state.
Know the Solar Access Laws in your State
There are three separate categories of states with varying levels of solar access laws or rules in place to help combat HOA solar panel restrictions:
- States with clear solar access laws
- States with guidance on solar access for homeowners
- States with no clear rules or policies on solar installations
It’s important to be aware of which category your state falls into so that you can better plan your pitch when faced with a homeowner’s association that is trying to block or manage your client’s solar installation.
For example, states with clear solar access laws include Arizona, Indiana, California, Washington, New Jersey, Florida, and Colorado. States that offer guidance on solar access include Kansas, New York, North Dakota, and Rhode Island, while places including Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and South Carolina have no policy in place whatsoever.
Even if you operate in a state with clear solar access laws in place, make sure to stay on top of the specific rules that apply to your area. For example, many states will force HOA communities to allow solar installations but still give them the power to decide whether any panels can be installed on the front of the home to maintain the neighborhood’s aesthetics within their HOA bylaws. Historic districts might also have restrictions on solar that will likely always be in place to protect older, important buildings. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) is a great resource for solar installers looking to stay up to date on local laws and incentives regarding solar installation in their area.
What About Federal Solar Access Laws?
At this time, there are no federal solar access laws in place in the United States. Under the Obama Administration, HR 2454 – The American Clean Energy and Security Act was a proposed federal law that would have prevented HOAs from blocking solar installs in their neighborhoods. Unfortunately, this bill failed to pass and nothing further has been drafted since.
This doesn’t mean that federal solar access laws are off the table for the U.S. There are about 40 million households currently being managed by homeowner’s associations in the country today, which means that there are likely many homeowners who currently want solar panels but think that they aren’t able to get them right now.
This number means that there is actually a lot of leverage for both homeowners and solar installers alike to lobby federal and state governments to draft legislation prohibiting HOAs to limit solar panel installations country-wide. In a time where renewable energy is on everyone’s mind, it needs to be clear to the government that if they would like to hit their lofty clean energy goals, they need to unlock every possible angle to get there – and that includes HOA neighborhoods.
Understanding Solar Easements in your State
Solar easements are another bargaining tool when it comes to installing solar panels in a tricky neighborhood. Solar easements give homeowners the legal right to protect their access to sunlight when it comes to their solar systems.
States with solar easements include Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, and Idaho. While these can be a helpful tool to help when trying to get a solar system installed, they are also, unfortunately, voluntary in the sense that the neighbors involved need to agree to the easement for it to apply. Deals like this, however, can always be sweetened by negotiating some sort of monetary compensation in return for the neighbor’s cooperation.
For a solar easement to be legally binding, it must include detailed information regarding the area where the easement applies with specific information about the horizontal and vertical angles that must have access to sunlight, as well as specifics about any trees or shrubbery that might affect the sun exposure to the area in question.
How to Get HOA Approval to Install Solar
When it comes to getting HOA approval to install solar, especially in areas with no clear solar access laws, there are a few tools solar contractors can keep in their back pocket to ensure that their clients can get the solar systems they want.
1 – Know Your Local Laws
Make sure you stay up-to-date on whether your state has solar access laws in place so that you can protect your potential client from being illegally misled by their homeowner’s association. Remember, HOAs, much like landlords, can often try to get away with bending the rules in the hopes that the people they are meant to serve are ignorant of what they are or aren’t allowed to do with their property. It’s up to you to help educate your clients on their rights and responsibilities when it comes to going solar if you want to close the deal in a tricky area.
2 – Gather the important documents for your client to build a case
If your solar company operates in an area with many HOA-managed neighborhoods, keeping a record of each one’s rules regarding solar installs is a great way to stay one step ahead when you receive a request for a quote from someone living in one of these areas.
If they allow solar under certain conditions, make sure that you’re aware of them so that you can build a proposal based on the rules to eliminate the need for any HOA-related revisions later on down the line.
If you know for a fact that a homeowner’s association is breaking the law when they deny a solar installation, it’s a good idea to have official documents and links on hand to rebuke their denial and continue with your work rather than having to pause to gather all the proof and provide it to them while also giving the client more time to second-guess their decision to look into solar in the first place.
Keep in mind that many homeowners may have just moved into the neighborhood or state and might not know about their rights. These people could easily be taken advantage of by an HOA, especially if this is their first time dealing with one or they aren’t familiar with laws regarding solar panels to begin with. Make sure that you also make your client aware of solar easements if they are available in your state as well, since that could be yet another way to try to get your job done for the homeowner.
3 – Don’t rule out education
Some HOAs may be okay with solar panels as long as they are well-hidden and maintain the overall look of the neighborhood, while others might not even realize that that is a possibility. If an HOA outright bans solar panels, it may be worth letting them know that all homes with south-facing backs can maintain curb appeal since the panels will only be visible from the back of the home, and they should allow installs on homes where this is applicable.
Many companies manufacture panels in shades other than your typical blue, green, or black module. Nowadays, it’s possible to find solar modules in brown, patterned, or metallic shades, as well as companies that manufacture special coverings for panels that can be printed to match the client’s roof to disguise them from the street.
When dealing with HOAs, it’s also worth educating them on the benefits solar panels can bring to the neighborhood, such as increasing the value of the homes and making the neighborhood a more attractive place to live for the growing number of people and families who are concerned with the environment, grid failures, and new renewable energy technologies.
4 – Work with the neighborhood to change HOA rules
At the heart of a homeowner’s association is a group of people who all want the best for their neighborhood. That said, many HOAs might not realize that the interests and needs of their neighbors shift and change over time. What may have been considered as an eyesore twenty years ago might now be a symbol of a fresh, progressive community that people would want to live in.
As a solar contractor, you can help change these opinions and thus change solar rules in these areas. Take a drive through these neighborhoods, leave some pamphlets in mailboxes and chat with the residents about how great their roofs are for solar. Tell them you could offer up a group discount if enough homeowners decide to look into solar for their homes, and give them any information they might need to help convince their HOA to allow the change.
Residents can also put the heat on their association to allow solar installs in areas with solar access laws and make them aware that they now know that their bylaws are illegal and unenforceable, opening up a new client base that any solar company would love to have access to.
Sample letter to HOAs Requesting Permission for a Solar Install
Once you have all your ducks in a row, and you have a good argument prepared to help fight for your client to get the solar panels they’re interested in, it’s time to help them let their HOA know of their intent to move forward with a solar installation. Don’t know where to start? Use this sample letter template to request permission for the solar installation from the HOA:
Zip Code: _________________________
Email Address: _____________________
I am submitting this application for a solar panel installation on my property located at home address.
I have attached a site assessment and structural analysis of my property, as well as the solar proposal and system design prepared by:
Company who performed the site assessment and created the solar quote.
I have researched this contractor and am confident that they are qualified and are licensed to install solar panels from institution that licensed installation company
I have contacted the local government authority and have received information as to the permit required for my installation and the relevant ordinances that apply in my situation. These are: ____________________________________________.
I am aware of the association’s concerns regarding solar panel installation and am willing to work with them to ensure that all parties are satisfied with the completed solar installation.
If the state has solar access laws:
I am aware that state has the following solar access requirements for all homeowners looking to install solar systems on their property, regardless of HOA bylaws. ______________
If the state doesn’t have any solar access laws or rules:
I understand that written approval from this association is required before the installation of any solar panels can commence.
I will make myself available to appear before the homeowner’s association to answer questions and present all the relevant material that will inform a final decision on my application, and am willing to modify the conditions of this solar installation in accordance with the rules provided by the association as to the style and location of the solar panel system.
If the state has solar easement laws:
I am aware that the solar easement laws in state are as follows, and will be working with the residents in this neighborhood as well as the association to ensure that these conditions are met. __________________
Working with (or against) homeowner’s associations can be tricky for any solar installation company, but it doesn’t always have to be. While homeowners should be aware of what laws are applicable in their state, the responsibility to ensure that the right rules are upheld often falls on the solar contractors themselves if they want to unlock all the possible solar leads that they can in their given area.
With some education, a deep understanding of local laws, and a few polite letters and conversations, getting homeowners with HOAs the solar panels of their dreams might not be as difficult as it looks on the surface.
Looking to scope, sell and complete more solar projects than ever? Solargraf is the most user-friendly, robust, and fully integrated solution on the market. Book your free demo today to learn more about growing your business with Solargraf.