Rooftop home solar panels are hot right now. It seems like everyone is doing it. Is all of this excitement around rooftop solar causing you to consider installing solar panels on your home but wondering what your homeowners association (HOA), deed restrictions or similar binding covenants can say about it?
Homeowners' Associations and home solar energy.
Florida law, specifically the Florida Homeowners Solar Rights Act, strives to protect solar equipment users by forbidding ordinances, deed restrictions, covenants, declarations or similar binding agreements from prohibiting the use of solar collectors or "other energy devices based on renewable resources". Community associations are specifically prohibited from preventing the installation of solar collectors on residential rooftops.
As of 2008, this protection extended to condominiums. A condominium’s board of owners may install solar collectors on association property for the benefit of its owners without approval of unit owners. Unit owners may only install devices within the boundary of their unit.
Florida law also allows for the creation of easements (in writing, and recorded and indexed in the same manner as any other instrument affecting the title to real property) for the purpose of maintaining exposure of a solar energy system to sunlight. That may mean your neighbor's tree who blocks your roof may need to be removed in order to protect your right to access the sun. Additionally, this protects you from the occasional nefarious neighbor intentionally blocking the sun.
And any requirements on the part of an HOA that a system be screened from view by trees or fences, use ground mounting racks, or installed on a remote roof location that is hidden from the street will likely violate the statute.
But you are not always completely in the clear with it comes to HOAs and solar equipment installation. While an HOA cannot prevent the installation of solar collectors on a roof, they may determine where on the roof the collectors may be installed so long as the collectors face within 45 degrees of due south and the determination does not impair their effective operation. (It should be noted that only in rare situations that an HOA could dictate that solar panels be placed anywhere other than the location that makes the most sense from a performance perspective.)
What can you do if your HOA isn’t playing by the rules?
Your first line of defense is to acquaint them with the law during your application to install solar. Worst case scenario? Following your installation you can enlist legal help and potentially sue your HOA if they continue to harass you following the installation. The Florida Homeowners Solar Rights Act has been challenged, upheld, and courts have clearly sided with homeowners.