Today, Tuesday, May 18, 2021, the NC Court of Appeals issued its decision in Belmont Association, Inc. v. Farwig (the first appellate review of North Carolina’s solar law!). The decision may impact the installation of solar panels in planned communities, and is a “published” decision. That means the decision is controlling legal authority and can be cited in other cases.
When N.C. Gen. Stat. § 22B-20 (“Deed Restrictions and Other Agreements Prohibiting Solar Collectors”) became law in North Carolina in 2007, it changed the way homeowners associations handle architectural requests. Prior to this statute, an HOA could simply follow the specific language in its governing documents and approve or deny solar panels based on that. With the passage of the solar law came many questions about how it works. Even today we continue to get frequent questions about how the law works and whether any community can deny solar installations. This month, for the first time, the NC Court of Appeals offered some guidance on North Carolina’s solar law for HOAs in Belmont Association, Inc. v. Farwig.
- Owners installed solar panels on the front roof of their home. This roof slopes downward toward a public street in front of their home.
- Homeowners did not obtain prior approval for their installation from the Architectural Review Committee (“ARC”).
- The HOA sent the owners a notice of architectural violation and requested submission of an architectural request. Although the owners subsequently submitted an architectural request, the ARC denied the request, finding that “the installation can be seen from the road in front of the home, and is not able to be shielded.”
Eventually the parties litigated the disagreement and the Association was granted summary judgment in its favor at the trial court. The owners appealed. Before the Court of Appeals, the owners argued that:
- Belmont’s requirement that the solar panels must be located on the rear roof and not the front roof violates N.C. Gen. Stat. § 22B-20(c), which prevents an HOA from prohibiting the reasonable use of solar collectors; and
- While subsection (d) of § 22B-20 provides an exception and allows restrictive agreements to prevent the installation of solar panels in statutorily prescribed locations, it does not apply in this case because the Declaration does not expressly restrict or prohibit solar collectors as improvements.
The court refused to adopt the owners’ interpretation of N.C.G.S. § 22B-20. As to the owners’ first argument, the Court held that § 22B-20(d) takes precedence when solar panels are placed in one of the areas mentioned in that subsection and that § 22B-20(c) does not apply in those cases. Here, the solar panels were placed on a roof surface that sloped down toward a public street, and the HOA could prohibit them.
On the homeowners’ second argument, the Court further held that the declaration did not need to specifically reference solar panels in order for Belmont to deny them. Instead, its discretionary power over architectural matters was sufficient for denial.
TAKEWAYS: Several aspects of this case may be beneficial to associations, managers, and homeowners. First, as long as the association has architectural control then solar panels are not exempt from an association’s architectural review process, even if the documents do not specifically mention “solar panels.” And second, there are some locations where an HOA is always able to deny installation of solar panels.
The full decision can be found at: https://appellate.nccourts.org/opinions/?c=2&pdf=39969
If you have questions about this or any other real estate or community association issue, please contact a Law Firm Carolinas attorney at any of our five offices for assistance.