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Solar rights


July 10, 2009
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Solar rights
Suppose you live in a neighborhood with a Homeowners Association and you want to put a solar collector on your roof. How should you approach the Board? Here's a spirited discussion of that situation.

Wayco Wayne writes: 
I am embarking on a journey into some possible controversy. I am about to install some solar hot water panels on the back roof of my house, but live in a neighborhood where things have to be approved by an Home Owners Association. I've been sending E-mails to the Association Board members and had gotten no response. I finally made a phone call and found that, Oh yes, they had gotten my E-mails but were at a quandry as to what to do. You see,the state of Maryland just passed a bill in April taking away the rights of Home Owner Associations to prevent solar access except in special cases. As far as I've read they do not define special cases. I don't think the HOA should have any issues with my particular installation, because it will not be in view from the street and no one lives behind my house but squirrels and birds. I'm backed up to park land. :) However, I think they are worried that the next guy will want it on the front of his house and that would be offensive to some homeowners and the problems begin. I think they were hoping I would go away. I've been invited to a meeting Monday night to discuss it. Please share any thoughts or experiences you have that will help me shape my thoughts. WW 

Bob Gagnon replies:
Explain to them how offensive $4.00 gasoline and heating oil is. Tell them that you are offended by global climate change and the fact that the ice pack might melt up at the north pole this year. Tell them how the mercury is offensive from the way we produce energy now. We can't even feed our kids fish from the lakes or rivers anymore,
and the oceans are becoming polluted with mercury too. Terrorist threatening our fuel supply, energy shortages, growing demand, all offensive. To not allow any renewable energy system to go up, now that's offensive. 

hot rod replies:
That is a hot button. What do your current CC&r's say about solar? I know some will even regulate, or try to, the color of your home, roof, driveway, etc. 

Here is a link to the California rulings: 

It's pretty hard to regulate aesthetics. I'm sure most manufactured, professionally installed collectors will be good looking, Some homemade plywood collectors may not be in everyones idea of tastefull :0 

Metro Man replies:
Once you get past any covenants for your HOA you need to look at any easement issues. If the neighbor has the right to build another story on they're house, possibly shading your install, then your screwed. Every district is different in they're "right to sun laws". 

You could get a variance but not many people willing to give that up. 

Cross your T's and dot you I's to be sure. 

Bob Gagnon replies:
Massachusetts has a set of laws to provide some protection to provide solar access for people with solar systems. These laws won't stop a big development from going in but it will grant you a hearing and possible compensation. I think it might stop an angry neighbor from intentionally blocking your collectors with trees or fences. Google Massachusetts Solar Access Laws for more information and consider lobbying your local politicians to enact similar laws. 

boilerpro replies:
Some where else you may want to look at.... Tucked away in my memory, it seems to me that Berlin,Germany has had sunlight laws for hundreds of years. Also, it is curious that I also have been told that Berlin also has the lowest rates in the world of many diseases. It's been nearly 20 years since my City and Regional Planning training, so things are a bit fuzzy. 

Don replies: 
Maybe this would be an opportunity to help the HOA put together a set of voluntary guidelines for solar installations, which addresses the aesthetic and practical effects on neighbors, etc. 

I can't imagine myself ever living in a tightly controlled HOA environment, but it seems that one where people work to flexible guidelines based on treating the neighbors with respect is better than one where retired nitpickers spend their days trying to catch the neighbors doing something against the rules. 
Wayco Wayne replies: 
Don, I think that is what they want from me. The new law pretty much sez they can't stop it and they know that. I think they want input from me to help guide them so we have the best looking installs possible. I think rule number one is no home made collectors. Do you guys have any ideas that would help me help them? 

NRT.Rob replies: 
If you agree with their assessment, a clause requiring SRCC rated collectors might do the trick. 

Wayco Wayne replies:
So far I think I agree with them. I want the neighborhood to look good too. Of course I don't know where they want to draw the line. I'll find out tonight. WW 

Dale replies: 
Switzerland - Saw a funny house shape made of plywood panels in the Alps. Asked what is that, since all other construction there is heavy duty? Seems the neighbors get 3 years to look at the proposed house shape to see if they will ok it. If ok then you get to build that shape for real. 

Wayco Wayne replies:
An update: I met with the Home owners association. I was asked to wait. They have 30 days to decide after my application for approval is in. As I feared they are afraid of opening the floodgates if they allow one, then they have to allow all. It's not so simple. While my solar panels would be out of site, other houses wouldn't. If everyone in the neighborhood had to keep the solar panels at a low profile then everyone would have different rights as to what and how many they could put up depending on which way their house is facing. One lady on the board also has calls in to several delegates at the State House to get clarification on the intent of the bill since the wording is so nebulous. There is also a revision of the law up for voting in September because of the gray wording. I'm a little frustrated. I got the "I wants," pretty bad now that I decided to proceed and can't. WW 

hot rod replies: 
What about a temporary ground mount or even single panel portable device? Just to get you fired up some more about the potential, and the excitement it may generate in the 'hood. 

Bob Gagnon replies:
Can you imagine if everyone started installing solar panels, that would be terrible. That's why I like my neighporhood so much, I didn't have to ask them about installing my panels, because I knew it wouldn't be a problem. I did ask the neighbor closest to me if I could cut a couple of his trees down, that were on his property, because they were in the way of the collectors. It took him about 5 seconds to say yes, then he helped me cut them up. Keep up the fight Wayne, if this was easy everyone would be doing it. Cape Wind has spent over $200 million just to try and get aprovals for wind turbines out on the ocean here in Massachusetts. 

Dave Yates replies:
Interesting thread. Diplomacy tests patience! This is, I suspect, an issue we will all face in the next few years. I'd suggest not waiting for them to make any decisions and turn to the manufacturer of whatever system it is you're going to utilize and ask them to help craft a design guideline. They can probably provide pics of previous installs, which will likely have curb appeal & give them some eye-candy. 

Sounds like the law will rule in your favor if you chose to ram this home, but if you can weather the patience issues, you may be able to win them over plus set the rules for all future solar installs in your area - giving you a competitive edge if you decide to be the designer/seller/installer. 

The best part of parting as friends following this give-n-take is that there's considerable chit-chat going on among the folks running the show and no doubt that translates into a wider spread in the immediate community. All eyes will be on you & your install & a picture speaks a thousand sales words(G). 

Wayco Wayne replies: 
Well said, Dave. That is my goal. succinctly put. I hope to win them over with patience and give and take. It would definitely put me in the front seat if interest in Solar comes to the neighborhood. :) BTW, I read on another thread you fancy Fat Tire Ale. Ann & I had some in Boulder this past April and I share your taste. Coincidently, last Sat I was at a local Home brewers warehouse bottling some Chimay Red Ale I made 2 weeks ago and the beer clone book on the table next to me was open to the recipe for Fat Tire Ale. I take it as a sign from the powers that be. Perhaps I'll make a batch next time.