Having problems with your solar installer?
Here at Solar United Neighbors, we’ve facilitated thousands of solar installations over the past ten years. Along the way, we’ve seen the best and the worst of the business. Although it’s rare, some solar installers don’t fulfill their contractual obligations for customers. Should this happen to you, there are several things you can do.
Here are 7 things you can do:
- Organize all your paperwork.
Your first step should be to get organized and collect all the paperwork you’ve received from the installer including your proposal, contract, correspondence (including texts), and related paperwork from the local jurisdiction and utility. Document everything! It’s also helpful to make a timeline of what happened when.
- Connect with your local community of solar supporters.
Joining a community will connect you to solar homeowners and experts who may be familiar with your situation or solar company.
- Connect with us! You can book a 15 minute call with a Solar United Neighbors staff member. We have teams on the ground in many different states and can help you navigate your situation.
- Reach out to the local solar trade association in your area. You can find a list of these organizations here. This will create a paper trail of your experience and may provide you with some leverage over the installer if they are also a member of the association. This is a great place to seek advice and publicly call out an installer who is providing poor service. It may motivate your installer to resolve your issue quickly.
- Register a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
It can also be effective to review your installer on public sites like Yelp, Google Reviews, SolarReviews, and others. Be sure to let your installer know that you intend to do this and when you have done so.
- File a claim with your lender or credit card issuer.
If you have not received the goods and services expected for a financial transaction, your bank or credit card issuers may have a process to assist you in getting a payment cancelled or refunded. Check with their consumer protection division. In the case of a credit card transaction, you can dispute the charge.
- Make an insurance claim.
Your homeowner’s insurance should cover your solar energy system. You may be able to file a claim with your insurance company related to a contractor and their work. This would be the case if you have monetary and/or property damage as a result of the work. It would also occur if there’s work that needs to be re-done or completed because it is not compliant with permitting or building code requirements. Your insurer can provide additional information regarding what’s covered. They can also explain limits on your policy, and related questions about a potential claim.
- Contact your local government.
In some cases, you may want to contact state, local, or municipal government agencies for help. These vary by state. It may be your local building, zoning, or permitting office. They can help you determine if the installer’s work meets all requirements. If it does not, they can take follow up action.
- Contact your local media.
Media coverage can create pressure on an installer to address your concerns. Local TV and radio stations often have consumer protection reporters that may be interested in covering your experience. If you do contact the media, be sure to have careful documentation of what happened to share. If other customers are affected and willing to be identified, including them in the media outreach can heighten the impact.
When should you take legal action?
If these intermediate steps don’t resolve your issue and you believe have exhausted all other options, legal action may be necessary. We’ve identified three situations that can warrant legal action:
- Failing to perform the contracted work in a timely manner;
- Performing work that was not compliant with local building codes or permits;
- And, mismanagement of customer payments, or not performing work within stipulated milestone payment timeline or procedure, because of financial insolvency.
Below we define these 3 situations:
- Installation timeliness
Your contract with your installer should hold them to a defined completion timeline. These can vary from two to six months, with longer wait times in busier solar markets. We recommend that you only sign a contract in which the payments are broken into multiple installments. This will often correspond with a down payment on the date of the contract execution. Larger payments, when the equipment is ordered, installed, and interconnected, should follow. A payment schedule like this is standard practice. You should view installers who ask for the entire payment upfront with caution. Paying your installer in full upfront reduces their incentive to finish your installation on time.
- Installing a code-compliant system
Your contract should also include a clause that commits the company to follow local codes and regulation standards. Work that isn’t code-compliant should be identified and resolved during the installation process. This starts when the installer submits an application for a permit. Your local jurisdiction should review their work plan. A second round of approval should occur after your system is installed. This inspection will determine if the installer completed the work as initially approved. Should a problem arise after this, it may be because the work isn’t compliant with local building and electrical codes. If you suspect or identify an issue, it is critical that you don’t try to fix it yourself. Doing so may void the workmanship warranty and expose you to bodily harm. You can also check on the status of your permit with the local jurisdiction or see why your inspection did not pass. Be sure to document this.
- Installer taking your money and not performing the work
Problems with installation timeliness and workmanship quality can lead to legal action. The biggest concern you should have about an installer is one who takes your money and does not perform the work because of financial issues. This is rare, but we’ve seen solar installers accept payments from customers and then go out of business. This leaves their customers on the hook for thousands of dollars with nothing to show for their investment. Unsuspecting customers may contact the installer wondering why their project doesn’t seem to be moving along, only to find that a number has been disconnected or a website has been taken offline. In this case, legal action is likely your only form of recourse.
What type of legal action can you take?
If you find yourself facing one of these issues, the following options may be your best form of recourse, depending on the state where you live:
- File a complaint with the state licensing agency
State and local licensing agencies typically regulate the license requirements for contractors. This includes solar installers. Consult your state or local licensing agency for more information on these requirements. They should provide you with information about filing a complaint against a licensed business. Some states carry emergency or special situation bonds. These could be applied in the case of a contractor not having one.
- File a complaint with the state Attorney General office
These state offices are usually set up to receive consumer complaints about businesses operating in the state. Check with your local Attorney General office website to see if they have an online complaint form. They may be able to compel the installer to meet your complaint. This depends on their level of authority in these matters. This varies by state and issue. If the office can’t help you directly, they may be able to direct you to the right state or local resource to assist you.
- File a claim in district court
A district court handles civil issues like complaints against a contractor. You may have a potential claim against your contractor depending on local state law. Legal assistance may be advised or required to pursue this action and any associated remedies. Cost for such assistance will vary by the provider and by the time they spend on your case. Be sure to ask any legal assistance providers about their fees in advance. You should also get an estimate of how many hours they spend on similar cases.
Homeowners should always have a great experience when going solar! If you’re considering going solar but don’t know where to start, read our article about what to look for when searching for a solar installer. No matter if you’re going solar on your own or through a solar co-op, we’re here to help you get the most out of your installation.
Need more help?
We will try to answer any questions we can. Drop us a line at [email protected].
Disclaimer: This article should not be taken as legal advice and is only intended for general educational purposes.