Our modern society is always looking for opportunities to limit our footprint on the environment and to increase sustainability in a modern world. Wind, solar, and other renewable resources are common topics of conversation. As part of this push, many states have enacted laws that encourage businesses and individuals to incorporate and use these technologies as a part of our everyday lives. For those of us who live in a homeowner’s association, we may or may not have rules that either allow or prohibit installation of solar panels.
The first relevant date for a homeowner’s association in North Carolina is October 1, 2007. If the association is older than that, then any general language of architectural control governs (restrictions in the governing documents and/or the same type of architectural guidelines as other structures with regards to aesthetics, appearance, other homes, etc.). So, if your association’s governing documents are older than October 1, 2007, then the statute does not affect your HOA’s ability to make its own rules about solar panels.
For deed restrictions, covenants, or similar binding agreements that run with the land and that are recorded on or after October 1, 2007, the current statute gets a little complicated. First, the statute provides that restrictions that outright prohibit solar installation are void and unenforceable. However, the statute also provides that an Association may still regulate the location of the installation and require screening so long as doing so does not “have the effect of preventing reasonable use of a solar collector for a residential property.” In addition, the statute specifically permits an Association to prohibit installation of solar panels that are visible by a person on the ground:
- On the façade of a structure that faces areas open to common or public access (more often than not this is going to be the front of the house);
- On a roof surface that slopes downward toward the same areas open to common or public access that the façade of the structure faces (more often than not, this is going to be the front roof); or
- Within the area set off by a line running across the façade of the structure extending to the property boundaries on either side of the façade, and those areas of common or public access faced by the structure (usually this is going to be in the front yard, but may vary depending on the location of the house, size or shape of the house or yard, and other factors).
Later additions to the statute made it applicable to townhomes and to condominiums that are not “stacked,” meaning they are set up in a similar manner to townhomes. If you have questions about whether your HOA’s restrictions permit installation of solar panels, or whether North Carolina’s solar panel laws apply, please contact me. I work closely with HOAs and homeowners on a regular basis and would be glad to review your HOA’s restrictions to see whether, and under what conditions, solar panels may be permitted in your neighborhood.