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HOAs and Solar roadblocks in virginia

As background, i've been following the solar discussions in this forum for a couple of years now. With the tesla in my garage, there is a very definite desire to put solar panels on my roof and be "driving on sunlight" - and yes, i know all of the caveats there, and the fact that i'm still likely charging off the grid if my car is charging at night. But still!

anyway - i've been waiting for prices to come down a bit so that i could run it past my wife as cost effective vs additional burden on our finances.

So this summer i found out about a program called solarize nova (solarizenova.org) that was doing community based group solar residential installs. By pulling communities together, they would get good rates from installers, etc...

I signed up, my area was involved, etc, etc...

got a reasonable quote, everything ready to go - the only hurdle was our HOA, which has a rule on the books from 1985 that says you can only install solar on the back of your house. Since my house faces south, i NEED to install the panels on the front.

That said - there was a new virginia law in 2014 that said HOAs could no longer restrict homeowners from installing solar, and could only make reasonable restrictions as to how it was done.

Further, i'm friendly with the president and vice president of the HOA, so i figured this might be doable.

I went to their board meeting in september and laid out my case, showed them the virginia law change, some suggested alterations to our architectural guidelines, etc.. Went over very well. The head of the HOA architecture committee weighted in and said he was in favor. Everyone else seemed to be as well. The meeting ended with them discussing how to amend the guidelines to allow this.

Fast forward 1 month. I missed the October board meeting (thought it was a week later than it was), but so what. I emailed the president yesterday to ask if there was any news, and got back a 1 liner to the effect of - we've denied your request to change the guidelines.

Prodding them for more details, i finally got back this response:
The discussion was a polite hearing of the merits and advantages of the proposed change. At the October meeting we discussed the various ARC rules that Management gathered from other communities. The vote hinged on the perceived overall impact to the HOA. After the full discussion and deliberations the majority of board members felt the aesthetics of shiny panels on on the front of houses outweighed the benefits to individual homeowners

Does anyone have any experience with this sort of block? Do I have any grounds to challenge this? I'm not sure that this considers a "reasonable restriction" based on the virginia law here: Bill Tracking - 2014 session > Legislation

just curious - i don't really know how to proceed from here, or if i've even got a chance of getting this changed at this point.

would love to hear any collective wisdom of the forum :)

Tempus
 

Rockster

Active Member
Oct 22, 2013
3,022
4,708
McKinney, TX
FWIW, my HOA requires that panels be on the back of the house but they have a clause that allows other placement if more efficiency is obtained. Below is the language used in our HOA's rules, in case it's valuable in discussions with your HOA.

"If located on the roof of a home, Solar Panels shall be located on the roof
facing the rear area of the property and shall not be visible from the street
unless the owner demonstrates that the location proposed by the owner
increases the estimated annual energy production of the Solar Panels, as
determined by using a publicly available modeling tool provided by the
National Renewable Energy Laboratory, by more than 10 percent above the
energy production of the Solar Panels if located in an area on the roof
requested by the Association."
 
That said - there was a new virginia law in 2014 that said HOAs could no longer restrict homeowners from installing solar, and could only make reasonable restrictions as to how it was done.

Does anyone have any experience with this sort of block? Do I have any grounds to challenge this? I'm not sure that this considers a "reasonable restriction" based on the virginia law here: Bill Tracking - 2014 session > Legislation

You say 'only make reasonable restrictions as to how it was done'. To me, that implies that it's more about the mechanics of an installation that the aesthetics. And the 'how' implies it's going to happen, but only in an acceptable fashion. I can see restricting how panels are mounted to the roof, both in terms of maintaining structural integrity of the truss system as well as ensuring the roof doesn't leak. Using a professional installer, with insurance. As well, obvious stuff like avoiding low overhangs that people could hit their head on...loose wires hanging from the roof edge on the way to the inverter... etc... and perhaps some level of obvious aesthetics in that you couldn't just mount them in a random pattern, off-square, whatever.

The rejection sounds like aesthetics only. Whether that contravenes the letter of the law you mention or simply contravenes the spirit of the law I don't know. However, I think I'd go back to them and discuss options for black trim vs. silver on the panels and perhaps bring some photos of large scale solar communities already constructed elsewhere in the U.S. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Depending on the audience, it might even be worth asking them what they suggest you do on a personal level to reduce carbon emissions beyond what you've already done... no, forget that... you can't fix stupid!! ;-)

But seriously, it sounds like they made the call because they didn't have to do it to your face. If they have to face you in the discussion and account for their position, enough of them might change their stance to allow the vote to go your way.

I wouldn't give up, but that's my personality... a stupid decision like this would just make me fight harder.
 

LetsGoFast

Active Member
Oct 13, 2014
1,329
101
Virginia
This isn't legal advice, but unless the rule against solar panels is recorded with the deed in a declaration, it is unenforcable. You could put up solar panels and they would lose if they chose to sue you to remove them. You might want to read the Attorney General's opinion on this subject for yourself. Of course, a fight with your HOA could be expensive and might have repercussions that you would prefer to avoid. If you are interested, I'd suggest pursuing this with a real estate attorney local to you.
 

FlasherZ

Sig Model S + Sig Model X + Model 3 Resv
Jun 21, 2012
7,028
1,025
Do the following:

1. Speak with an attorney about the case and get his assessment on whether you have a case or not.
2. If it sounds positive to you, either speak with board members privately and/or attend the next meeting; inform them that you have consulted and/or retained an attorney in the matter, and that you intend to exercise the rights given to you by the 2014 law. As mentioned by Rockster, it is probably also valuable to supply them with the results of solar modeling on your north roof vs. your south roof. Tell them that state law favors your position and that you are giving them an opportunity to change the standards without involving a legal fight, to save the association attorney fees - I've found that most HOA's try to avoid putting themselves into a position where they must hire one because they're expensive.
3. Start planning for construction and give them the opportunity to file a case against you.

"Reasonable" is going to be a judgment call by a jury, but if you present the models - what would be produced on northern roof vs. southern roof, it will definitely establish that it is not "reasonable" to install it on the rear roof because the efficiency penalty is well over 50%.
 
thanks for all the replies. :)

Going out of order - i actually did go with panels with black trim (instead of the aluminum look) to better blend with the roof, and try and give the HOA one less thing to complain about. Guess that didn't help enough. I also showed them pictures of some installed systems.

The installer i've been working with said they are putting up a front of house solar system on another house near where I live. She was going to let me know when that was up so I could give the HOA another example to look at.

Regarding attorneys and suing the HOA, giving them the end around - i'm not really looking for a drawn out legal battle here. I think it might be worth seeing if I might have a case, and suggesting I'm looking at legal action to see if they budge, but i'd hate to actually have to fight them in court. At the end of the day, these people are my neighbors as well.

The whole thing is beyond frustrating. I went from thinking I was going to have a solid solar system up this fall to being more or less back to square one.
 

FlasherZ

Sig Model S + Sig Model X + Model 3 Resv
Jun 21, 2012
7,028
1,025
Regarding attorneys and suing the HOA, giving them the end around - i'm not really looking for a drawn out legal battle here. I think it might be worth seeing if I might have a case, and suggesting I'm looking at legal action to see if they budge, but i'd hate to actually have to fight them in court. At the end of the day, these people are my neighbors as well.

I understand your position. It is my plan never to move into any type of HOA-controlled home, based on the experiences that I've seen. I've found that HOA board members are either 1) the self-important, give-me-a-badge types, or 2) the victims of #1 who get pissed off enough to take action themselves.

Good luck.
 
That's a bummer and reminds me to check our HOA for restrictions before finalizing our solar installation contract. Sorry I have no useful input.

- - - Updated - - -

There are black looking panels that reflect less and blend into the roof. That might be a concession you can make to the HOA.

On this note, are there shinier-looking panels? Our new neighbor out back whose property looks down on ours just recently installed a very reflective, shiny metal roof. If the angle is right, his roof could trigger a seizure down here. We'd like to pay him back by installing shinier, more visible solar panels on ours.

Just kidding. I think normal-shine panels will do just fine. :)
 
On this note, are there shinier-looking panels? Our new neighbor out back whose property looks down on ours just recently installed a very reflective, shiny metal roof. If the angle is right, his roof could trigger a seizure down here. We'd like to pay him back by installing shinier, more visible solar panels on ours.

Or just do this with some vents...:
utahhouse1.jpg


True story... see http://www.snopes.com/photos/risque/ventcover.asp
 
My home owners association never blinked

https://www.google.com/maps/@36.899...4!1sGzgAoTuJc1zaoq7qwyx9ww!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

Suffolk VA
Questions... How many panels are you looking at? What are your expectations for power generation?
take a look at https://enphase.com/en-us/map and see what your neighbors are getting. I am https://enlighten.enphaseenergy.com/public/systems/5xdq32255
Dominion is really hard on us and we have no decent option to sell our SRECs. Best I have ever gotten is about $50 for one. Average is/was about $20.
Moral.... re think your payback calculations. It is going to take longer to make your money back than you think. Yes I am seeing return on my investment but payback is 7 years, not 4 or 5 that I had thought with a decent SREC market.
 
My home owners association never blinked

Google Maps

Suffolk VA
Questions... How many panels are you looking at? What are your expectations for power generation?
take a look at Enphase installation map and see what your neighbors are getting. I am Enphase installation map
Dominion is really hard on us and we have no decent option to sell our SRECs. Best I have ever gotten is about $50 for one. Average is/was about $20.
Moral.... re think your payback calculations. It is going to take longer to make your money back than you think. Yes I am seeing return on my investment but payback is 7 years, not 4 or 5 that I had thought with a decent SREC market.

What does that mean, "Dominion is really hard on us"?

It looks like in VA there is no market for the SRECs. I suppose Dominion has to provide some sort of certificate for you to sell based on your generation?
 

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