Living in a Homeowners Association (HOA) community has many perks. Neighborhoods are managed through rules and regulations in order to maintain or raise property values. Generally, whenever a homeowner wants to make changes to their existing home, they need to get approval from their HOA. Yet, with solar panel installation in North Carolina, it’s not as cut and dry as one might think.
HOA Covenants vs. North Carolina Statute
HOA Covenants or bylaws are usually put into place to keep homes and properties looking uniform within the community. Yet, any covenant written to restrict or prohibit solar panels in order to maintain conformity, will not likely stand up in court. The Statue titled Deed of Restrictions and Other Agreements Prohibiting Solar Collectors (N.C.G.S. §22B-20), addresses solar panel use.
Within the second paragraph of Article 3, it states “any deed restriction, covenant, or similar binding agreement …that would prohibit, or have the effect of prohibiting, the installation of a solar collector…is void and unenforceable.” As clear as that may sound, exceptions within the statute in later paragraphs, allow HOAs to regulate the location of solar collectors.
Exceptions Can Muddle the Interpretation
Paragraph four (D), allows for covenants to be written that can limit the placement of solar panels or collectors. Restrictions can include: The façade of a structure that faces areas open to common or public access, roof surfaces sloping down toward the same common or public access areas, or within the area set off by a line running across the façade of the structure, extending to the property boundaries.
Attorneys Phillip Lewis and Michael Hunter wrote an article for the Charlotte Observer regarding the ambiguity of the law. They suggest a covenant regarding location cannot “have the effect of preventing the reasonable use of a solar collector for residential property”. An example would be a restriction that only allowed solar panel placement in basements. Since solar panels need the sun’s rays to work, the provision would be invalid.
After rereading the statute, Lewis suggests that “areas open to common or public access” can include public roads. So if a home is located between two streets and is close to neighboring homes, where can they put their panels or collectors? Given the fuzzy wording within the statute, the attorneys believe the courts would apply the least restrictive reading of the law.
Townhomes and Stacked Condominiums
For HOAs responsible for maintaining building exteriors, solar devices cannot be restricted entirely. The homeowner is responsible for installation, upkeep, and even removal. If any damages occur for any of the before mentioned, it lies on the owner’s shoulders.
For multi-story stacked condos, an HOA can prohibit solar devices all together. However, the law does not address townhome-style condos.
For More Information:
Attorney Michael Hunter represents condominium and community associations in the Charlotte, NC area. You can find his articles at The Charlotte Observer, and his blog at www.CarolinaCommonElements.com.