With prices rising everywhere, you may have found yourself considering installing solar panels to offset energy costs.
Per WeatherandClimate.com, North Carolina receives over 2600 annual sun hours, averaging out to about 213 days of sunshine out of 365. This is a large percentage of the year, and solar panels converting that sunlight into power could give homeowners substantial savings on their energy bills. But do Homeowners Associations permit them?
Solar Panel Bans Outlawed
In 2018 a Raleigh homeowner installed $32,000 worth of panels on the front roof of their home. The Belmont Association Architectural Review Committee found the panels to be an unapproved eyesore, and thereby ordered that the panels be removed immediately. Following the owner’s refusal, the HOA began imposing fines of $50 per day that the panels remained, and liens were filed against the property title. Consultation with legal counsel found that this demand and associated fines were in violation of North Carolina’s Solar Access Law of 2007, which guarantees access to installation and usage of solar energy sources on detached homes. When the lawsuit was brought before the Court, it was determined that the HOA could neither enact nor enforce a ban on solar panels in their covenants and therefore the demands and fines of the Belmont Association Architectural Review Committee were deemed to be unlawful.
Following appellate review, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled on 16 June 2022 that HOAs are not permitted to ban the installation of solar panels, thus guaranteeing that homeowners have legal access to alternative solar energy sources. There were, however, a few clouds on the horizon: though an HOA cannot ban the installation of solar panels on single-family homes, they can dictate where they are placed so long as the placement does not interfere with the panel’s ability to function.
The Next Legal Hurdle
A Charlotte homeowner then had this caveat brought to his attention following his application to install 23 solar panels on the roof of his home on Esherwood Lane. Following the project proposal to his HOA, the panels were only permitted to be installed on the back of his house, even though a site survey concluded that the front of the house received the most hours of intense sunlight and can fit more panels. The homeowner argues that this relocation would severely limit reasonable use, as the back of the house only receives about 40% of the light that the front receives, according to an interview with WSOC-TV.
The issue the homeowner faces is proving the impact on the limitation of use. Though the Court has ruled that an HOA cannot demand that solar panels be placed in a location that will limit function, this limit has not been legally defined. Is a 5% reduction enough to negate an HOA ruling? What about 20%?
Electric cars and solar panels have become an increasingly accessible form of alternative, environmentally-friendly energy as fossil fuels and heating and cooling costs are steadily rising. Homes with alternative energy sources generally experience an increase in property value, leading to higher asking prices during sales. Such being the case, clarification of the reasonable use percentage needs to be determined by the Courts, and soon. What do you feel should be the determining percentage? Would you be willing to be a seller’s agent for a home with visible solar panels?
Leave a comment below or discuss it with a colleague in an upcoming CE Class!
Boraks, David. “N.C. Supreme Court Limits Ability of Hoas to Prohibit Solar Panels.” WFAE 90.7 - Charlotte's NPR News Source, WFAE, 22 June 2022.
Latos, Allison. “NC Supreme Court Rules Hoas Can't Ban Solar Panels, but Can Say Where They Go.” WSOC TV, WSOC TV, 5 Sept. 2022.
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