We have all heard stories about people getting into disputes with homeowners associations about minor changes to their homes: paint choices, political posters and so on. There are also plenty of disputes over major changes. In some cases, the HOA is within its rights to block the change. In others, its not. Generally speaking, the more extensive and permanent the changes, the more the HOA has the power to stop an individual owner from making it.
That said, there are some situations in which California law sides with an individual homeowner who wants to make a big change. One such example involves solar panels.
Solar access laws
Many states have so-called solar access laws that protect residents’ rights to sunlight, and more than half the states have laws protecting homeowners’ right to install solar panels on their homes even when their HOAs object. Some of these laws are stronger than others, and some states enforce them more than others. Analysts say they expect these laws to become more common in the years ahead as the public becomes increasingly conscious of environmental concerns.
California has had solar access laws on its books for decades. The Solar Rights Act of 1978 limited the ability of HOAs to restrict residents from installing solar energy systems. Under the law, HOAs can place restrictions on solar power only if the restrictions are “reasonable.”
Of course, many legal disputes have begun with a disagreement about what is reasonable and what is not. In some cases, an HOA may tell a resident that they can install solar panels only on the north-facing side of a roof, but the resident may counter that this would mean the panels would receive insufficient sunlight.
These disputes can be highly fact-specific, and it’s wise for anyone involved in such a disagreement to seek out professional advice.