The Supreme Court of North Carolina has issued an order affirming homeowners’ right to install rooftop solar, even if previously prohibited by a Homeowners association (HOA).
The decision was reached in Belmont Association v. Thomas Farwig. Farwig argued that his HOA had no grounds to block his rooftop solar plans, as the community rules don’t expressly prohibit it. Conversely, Belmont Community Association, argues that Mr. Farwig’s solar array can be considered an “improvement,” which is something that the group has the authority to reject, regardless of whether it is an improvement explicitly listed by HOA rules. Belmont also found that the array would “be aesthetically unpleasing as viewed from the public street.”
Belmont began charging Farwig $50 a day to keep his property out of foreclosure, which he paid. The HOA then placed a lien on his home. This is when Mr. Farwig decided to countersue, alleging that solar access laws had been violated.
After an appeals court ruled in favor of Belmont, the issue was brought to the North Carolina Supreme Court. The court ruled that HOA provisions granting broad discretionary authority to architectural review committees cannot be used to prohibit the installation of solar panels. The court also affirmed that the HOA’s architectural review committee could not limit the location of solar panels to the back of the home, in situations where installing panels in the back would prevent the reasonable use of the solar panels due to roof orientation.
During the case, the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA), represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Farwig, as did the North Carolina Attorney General.
“The ruling issued by the North Carolina Supreme Court is a significant achievement for homeowner property rights in North Carolina, affirming access to clean, renewable power for those previously denied by their HOAs,” according to Peter Ledford, NCSEA’s General Counsel and Director of Policy. “This decision will reduce a significant barrier to the residential solar market in North Carolina, supporting jobs in the rooftop solar industry, and helping homeowners lower their utility bills and clean up the grid.”
The decision was based on North Carolina’s 2007 solar access law, which states that HOA’s cannot ban solar explicitly or effectively, and that it can only bar front-facing solar arrays if it explicitly lists them in its community rules.
In 2021, the state’s House of Representatives passed legislation that removed the front-facing exception, and instead gave control to HOAs to dictate panel placement, as long as there isn’t more than a 10% impact on generation.
A rising issue
North Carolina is not the first state where disputes between homeowners and HOAs regarding solar installations have been taken to the state level, though the issue has typically been resolved through legislation.
In March, Indiana passed legislation, House Bill 1196, which makes it considerably more difficult for Homeowners Associations (HOA) to prohibit residents from adding solar installations to their homes.
The law states that any homeowner who is a member of a HOA that has codified rules (adopted or amended after 2019) or previously ruled that solar installations may not be installed within the community, can petition other homeowners association members for approval to install a solar energy system on the homeowner’s dwelling unit or property. Once homeowners have collected signatures from 65% of HOA residents, the HOA board of directors, an architectural review committee, or an architectural control committee of the HOA may not deny the homeowner’s request to install the solar energy system.
In August 2021, Illinois passed similar legislation to House Bill 1196. That legislation rescinded the ability of community associations to ban members from installing solar on certain areas of their homes. The associations can still determine the specific configuration of said installation, so long as that decision does not lower the system’s annual estimated generation output by more than 10%. The law also significantly cut down the amount of time that association members have to wait for a response once filing their application for approval of a system with their association.
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