By David Swedelson, SwedelsonGottlieb Partner, Condo Lawyer and HOA Attorney
These days, going “green” is all the rage. So, it is no surprise that lately we are getting more and more inquiries from boards wondering how they should respond when homeowners request authorization to install solar panels. If the owner wants to install the solar panels on the common area, such as the roof of a condominium building, the answer is easy: “NO.” Owners do not have the right to install any type of modification on the common area, and solar panels are no exception.
However, it is a different story when owners request permission to install the solar panels on their own roof. As you might suspect, the answer is more complicated. Regardless of what the association’s governing documents may say, Civil Code Sections 714 and 714.1 limit the ability of a homeowners association to restrict the installation of solar panels within a separate interest. Civil Code Section 714 says, among other things, that a community association cannot enact a covenant, restriction or condition which limits or restricts an owner’s ability to install a solar energy system. In fact, any such covenant, restriction or condition is considered “void and unenforceable”. If homeowners want to install solar panels on their separate interest (meaning on their own home or yard), they must submit an architectural application as would be required for any other exterior improvement or modification. However, because of the limitations of the Civil Code, the architectural committee (or board) cannot deny the application for solar panels simply because solar panels do not fit in with the aesthetics of the development.