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Homeowners’ Associations Can Rule Out Solar

Just for the Look of It

From Joan Rech

As solar power systems have become more affordable, more homeowners are installing such systems to meet some or all of their homes’ electrical needs. But others face a major obstacle – their homeowners associations (HOA’s). Many HOA’s were incorporated before solar was a realistic possibility, and their rules or by-laws either prohibit roof-top solar arrays or fail to address the issue completely. This leaves decisions to the current board, whose members may or may not be sympathetic to renewable energy. In some cases, it has led to litigation, the results of which have been inconsistent.

New York Assemblywoman Sandy Galef. Flickr

New York Assemblywoman Sandy Galef. Flickr

Because of this, New York Assemblywoman Sandy Galef has introduced a bill (A06878) to prohibit HOAs from banning roof-top arrays. In support, the bill states that in order to meet state renewable energy goals, “… solar power opportunities must be expanded to those, who for a variety of reasons, have been prevented from installing solar power systems, particularly solar arrays, on their houses.” The intent of the bill is clear. It applies only to situations where the roof is owned by the homeowner and is not common property of the HOA. The bill also lists restrictions HOA’s may and may not place on solar energy systems. HOAs may adopt rules regarding the qualifications of installers or contractors and the location, size and color of the arrays. However, they may not adopt any rule or regulation which “inhibits the solar power system from functioning at its intended maximum efficiency.” Four states, Massachusetts, California, Arizona and Florida, already have similar laws.

I have a strong interest in this bill. I own a small (1200 square feet), inexpensive townhouse. Each homeowner is responsible for his or her exterior maintenance (including the roof) and landscaping. The houses are grouped in units of two and four, essentially equivalent to row houses. I had proposed a small system – 13 panels on less than 25% of my roof, which would have provided me with all of my electricity on an annual basis. My HOA rejected the proposal. The reason given: it would “… significantly change the architectural appearance of the entire community as it was designed.” Significantly? Entire?

Times change. At one time, HOA’s could ban satellite dishes. The rules of my HOA still include such a ban although it cannot be enforced, (due to federal legislation dating to 2005). Assemblywoman Galef’s bill would similarly address the issue of solar arrays. It would bring clarity to the issue and allow more homeowners to obtain some or all of their electricity from a renewable source – the sun.

If you are interested in supporting this bill or have faced similar problems with an HOA, please contact me at 518 307-1294 or

Joan Rech is a retired computer programmer. She lived in Vermont and now resides in upstate New York. Joan wrote two books about short hikes and interesting walks in southern Vermont.

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