My wife and I had wanted to install solar panels for some time. We finally took the plunge at the end of 2018. Little did we know how deep that plunge would be. It took us almost a year to get our HOA to approve our installation. I hope my story will spur the legislature to protect the rights of Virginia homeowners.
We were the first members of our HOA to request permission to install solar panels. The board rejected our request.
The front of our house faces south. Solar panels work best when they face south, so that’s where our installer recommended the panels be installed. The HOA board denied our request. They told us we would have to put the panels at the back of our roof to meet their approval. Installing the system in this way would have made our decision to go solar financially unfeasible. Siting the panels this way meant we would never recoup our investment in solar.
We didn’t give up. We reviewed the law as best we could and spent a lot of time getting as much material as possible to answer the board’s concerns. We had a computer rendering of our house with panels installed on the front roof and brought in pictures of other solar installations. Our installer drew up blueprints and the plans that were submitted to the county to get the proper permits for the work.
The HOA denied us again.
The most frustrating part of this whole mess is that Virginia has a law on the books that is supposed to protect homeowners like me. The law says that HOAs cannot put “unreasonable restriction[s]” on solar installations. Unfortunately, the law does not define what an “unreasonable restriction” is.
We went back and forth with our HOA over many months. We tried to show them Virginia law was on our side. I reached out to advocacy groups, multiple government agencies, representatives, and lawyers. No one could say exactly what the law meant without a judge weighing in. As a result, our HOA racked up legal fees to get clarification of what the law states. Our own time was spent with a lawyer who donated her time to make a case with my board on our behalf.
After a lot of stress and effort, we finally came to an agreement with the HOA. A survey of fellow HOA members was done. It showed the majority were fine with panels facing the front in our neighborhood. The HOA board drew up new guidelines for solar. We got our panels on the roof. They look great and meet all our expectations.
Yet, this story is playing out throughout Virginia. Hundreds of homeowners have been stopped from going solar. This is costing millions of dollars in local economic development, and denying homeowners their right to reduce energy bills and increase the value of their homes.
Fortunately, my state Delegate is sponsoring legislation (HB 414; SB 504) in Richmond that would define what constitutes a “reasonable restriction”. The proposed bill says a restriction is reasonable unless it increases the cost of the system by more than $1,000 or decreases its output by more than 10%.
This common-sense bill would remove the potential for expensive and time-consuming legal battles and give homeowners more rights. It would help Virginia solar contractors create more jobs and reduce our reliance on dirty, expensive fossil fuels. No homeowner should have to wait to install solar or go through the headache that we did.