Could Solar Statutes Undermine Your Association's CC&Rs?

June 19, 2015
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For many homeowners who buy in a planned community, the rules and requirements in the association’s CC&Rs and bylaws keep the neighborhood clean, well maintained, and aesthetically pleasing, so worrying about a neighbor’s unsightly modifications to his home shouldn’t even be on the radar. But associations’ control over one eco- and budget-friendly home modification has been severely limited by changes to laws that protect the rights of homeowners to install and use solar panels—despite prohibitions by an association.

A change in California’s 30-plus-year-old Solar Rights Act has put the spotlight on community associations once again, even those in other states. The change should remind all association managers and boards to tread lightly when faced with a request from a homeowner to install solar panels on his property.

The act is now putting more pressure on associations. Previously, under Civil Code Section 714, a California community association could restrict its members’ installation and use of solar energy systems—so long as the restrictions did not significantly increase the cost of the system or significantly decrease its efficiency or specified performance. The key is that “significantly” was defined through the end of 2014 as increasing the costs of the system by 20 percent (or $2,000 for photovoltaic systems) or decreasing the efficiency of the system by 20 percent.

AB 2188, which became effective Jan. 1, 2015, redefines what reasonable restrictions an association can require and amends Civil Code Section 714. Specifically, the new law has cut by half an association’s ability to restrict solar energy systems installed by members.

The new law also reduces the time period an association has to approve or deny an application for the installation of a solar system. As a result, boards and architectural committees must be even more diligent in their review and consideration of applications for new solar energy systems.

For three universal steps to take when the issue of solar panels comes up in your association, regardless of location, see “Review Governing Documents for Compliance with Solar Statutes,” available to subscribers here.