Rocky Mountain Chapter

Colorado HOA members encouraged to go solar

By Carol Carpenter
RMC Communications Team

Solar Roof

Are you a condo, townhome or patio home owner? If your residence is part of a homeowner’s association (HOA) you might think gettingpermission to add solar panels to your roof would be a hassle. But good news: it’s actually not all that difficult, and even if your HOA is reticent, the law is on your side.

Like homeowners who are not subject to HOA rules you, too, can take advantage of Sierra Club’s solar initiative with Sungevity, a national solar home specialist that in less than two years has installed solar panels on the roofs of 199 Sierra Club members and supporters nationwide, nine of those in Colorado.

While some HOAs might be more than happy to work with homeowners to switch to renewable solar energy, others might be a little hesitant or even offer outright resistance.

Colorado law can be your ally

What do you do if your HOA is not cooperative? Fortunately, Colorado law (C.R.S. 38-30-168) can be your ally. The law, which addresses the authority of HOAs to regulate the installation and use of “solar energy devices,” specifies what everyone’s rights are, so read it thoroughly.

Rocky Mountain Chapter energy issue specialist Becky English says HOAs in Colorado have come a long way with regard to their attitudes toward solar panel installation. In the past, HOA boards frequently prioritized the appearance of their neighborhoods over the improved energy functionality solar panels offer.

“Thanks to the 2008 statute, HOA members and boards have become considerably more educated about the many advantages of accommodating clean renewable energy,” English states. “Our Chapter’s partnership with Sungevity allows any residential property owner to painlessly join the clean energy revolution that’s so important for reversing climate change.”    

According to Colorado Homeowners Association Law, HOAs and individual homeowners need to know the following about regulating the installation of solar panels:

  • Associations are not permitted to prohibit the installation of solar panels on a unit or property which is owned by a member of the association. Any such prohibition in the governing documents of an association is void and unenforceable.
  • An individual does not have the right to place solar panels on: 1) property owned by another person; 2) property which is leased by the individual; 3) limited common elements of an association; 4) general common elements of an association; and on 5) property which is collateral for a commercial loan – without permission of the secured party. (If you’re interested in having your HOA’s community room structure be a site for solar panels, you must go through your HOA’s process for such decisions that affect more than one property owner.

  • Associations are permitted to adopt aesthetic provisions (commonly referred to as “architectural guidelines”) that impose reasonable restrictions on the dimensions, placement or external appearance of solar panels and that do not 1) significantly increase the cost of the solar panels; or 2) significantly decrease the performance or efficiency of the solar panels.

  • Associations are also permitted to adopt “bona fide safety requirements, required by an applicable building code or recognized electrical safety standard, for the protection of persons or property.”

Reasonable restrictions
Steve Wright in a Solar Citizen article, “News you can use: HOAs and your solar rights,” states that HOAs can impose “reasonable restrictions” on members’ attempts to install solar panels. “Generally speaking, courts have been reticent to overturn specific HOA bylaws unless they are found to be arbitrary, unconstitutional or blatantly illegal,” Wright says.
However, he continues, “Because an outright ban might look arbitrary (or illegal in many states), HOAs can make rules that restrict the visibility and size of solar panel arrays.” Homeowners, in response, might move their panels to shady, fenced-in yards or to first-floor roofs that can't be seen from the street or road.
It helps, Wright suggests, to point HOAs to credible sources that detail the benefits of solar power, including U.S. Energy Department and other data that shows electricity bills and peak-period blackouts would be reduced.
“Homeowners can attempt to negotiate a compromise agreement,” Write suggests, including making agreements about aesthetics. “In the worst case, a homeowner may be forced to take legal action against a stubborn HOA.”
To find out whether your condo, townhome, patio or other HOA home would be a good fit for solar, click here. More information about the solar program is available at www.sierraclub.org/sungevity.

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