Can a Community Association Restrict Solar Panel Installation?
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Solar power is gaining traction as a common source of meeting Floridians’ electricity needs. In most cases, homeowners capture solar energy through the installation of roof mounted solar panels. Though readily accessible to most, solar panels are often unsightly and are a topic of concern and debate in community associations.
The Solar Rights Act
The Solar Rights Act (“Act”), Section 163.04, Florida Statutes, protects homeowner’s rights to obtain renewable energy, including solar power. Specifically, the Act states that deed restrictions, covenants, declarations, or similar agreements may not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting solar collectors. Fla. Stat., § 163.04. In other words, a community association cannot prevent property owners from installing solar collectors, including solar panels.
Community Association Restrictions
While community associations are expressly prohibited from preventing the installation of solar panels within their community, associations do have some rights to restrict the placement and size of solar panel installations. The Act states that “a property owner may not be denied permission to install solar collectors or other energy devices by any entity granted the power or right in any deed restriction, covenant, declaration, or similar binding agreement to approve, forbid, control, or direct alteration of property with respect to residential dwellings and within the boundaries of a condominium unit.” Fla. Stat., § 163.04(2). However, the Act provides that such entity may determine the location where solar collectors may be installed on the roof “within an orientation to the south or within 45° east or west of due south if such determination does not impair the effective operation of the solar collectors.” Id.
While condominium associations may occasionally face a request for solar panel installation, homeowners associations are much more likely to encounter members’ desire to install solar panels. As discussed above, homeowners associations are permitted under the Act to determine the location of solar panel installations, with some restrictions. There are two key considerations for homeowners associations when reviewing an architectural request to install solar panels. First, and most importantly, the association must ensure that any restrictions on the location or size of the solar panels to be installed will not render them ineffective for the request purpose. Second, the association must be sure that any restrictions on or disapprovals of solar panels based upon the location of solar panels do not violate the Act.
Condominium associations are less likely to see requests for roof installation of solar panels, as a majority of condominium units do not have their own independent roofs. Requests for balcony or portable installations of small solar setups, however, are not uncommon. As with their homeowner counterparts, condominium owners are generally protected under the Act. However, because condominium owners do not formally own the exterior of their units, the association has broader authority to restrict solar installation.
The right to obtain renewable energy and solar power is protected by the Solar Rights Act from overly burdensome restrictions by community associations. The Solar Rights Act does provide limited authority to homeowners and condominium associations to restrict the placement and size of solar panel installations. The community association attorneys at Jimerson Birr can help your association navigate the balance between an owners right to solar and protecting the curb appeal of the association.