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HOAs and Solar Energy: What You Need to Know
In an age where culture and government are turning toward renewable fuels and green energy, it is little surprise that solar power has risen to the top tier of these alternative resources. It offers the promise of reducing greenhouse gases implicated in climate change, liberating us from a national dependence on foreign oil, and contributing to new jobs in novel energy sectors. The flip side of these benefits is the aesthetic effect of solar panels. In some states. condominium homeowners associations (HOAs) inhibit owners from installing solar panels. True to its nickname, the Sunshine State of Florida instead encourages their adoption by HOAs and by individual owners.
HOAs may not always like the look of solar panels, but they can surely appreciate the effect on owner cash flow. One advantage for Florida condo dwellers is that the sun shines a lot here. Nationwide, the average electric bill is $1,450 per year. Keeping other variables constant, this amounts to $29,000 over two decades. With solar energy capacity, a typical Florida household could save $18,052 over those same 20 years. Of course, this estimate does not calculate for inflation, the size of the panel system, or the intensity of usage. It does, however, convey a ballpark figure that indicates substantial cost reduction. When utility costs are less of a burden, HOA dues become likewise.
Those owners need to know if the roof belongs to them or to the HOA. Although statutes like Florida 163.04 guarantee the right of condo owners to install panels on their own roofs, the law does not apply if the HOA owns the roof itself. New owners often sign a statement of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&R) with their new HOA. This is where you will find where responsibilities for the association end and the unit owners begin. Almost always, with townhomes anyway, the HOA has jurisdiction over the outer walls. Sovereignty over the roof, or part of the roof, can change from community to community.
In some cases, there may be several condominium units adjoining. One neighbor may enthusiastically want the advantages of solar energy while the others may prefer to keep the roof intact. While it is best for neighbors to come to an agreement regarding solar panels, there are laws in place that allow one owner to install the panels under certain conditions. For instance, the HOA may need to approve the installation plan and “solar site survey” displaying the layout of panels on the roof. Florida Statute 704.07 provides for easements whereby the panels can be placed where there is optimal exposure to the sun.
Where HOAs own the roofs, they have absolute discretion to install panels regardless of unit owner preferences. In fact, they might find doing so desirable. According to Money magazine, solar panels raise home values in the U.S. by 4.1% on average.