Solar supporters help HOA work through restrictions

By Ben Delman on March 29, 2018

We often say that solar is easier to do with a community of solar supporters. This was borne out recently as a conversation on the listserv helped Charles Town homeowners work through issues with their homeowners association.

Homeowners associations (HOAs) are empowered to set rules concerning aesthetic considerations for the communities they serve. Sometimes this includes restrictions on the installation of solar panels. The Community Association estimates that 180,000 West Virginians live in an area with some form of homeowners association.

Scott Rogers, Charles Town mayor and president of his local HOA, ran into this very issue. His HOA’s bylaws included a ban on installing solar. So Rogers reached out to our community of solar supporters for help.

He learned that West Virginia law protects the solar rights of homeowners who live in an HOA. Section §36-4-19 of the state code states that HOA prohibitions against solar are unenforceable. It does allow HOAs to impose “reasonable restrictions” on solar, so long as these restrictions do not make the homeowner’s investment in solar economically impracticable. HOA rules against solar voted on by HOA members before the law went into effect in 2012 are grandfathered in, and could still be enforced.

The covenant used in Rogers’ HOA came from the neighborhood’s developer. The HOA never voted to ban solar.

“Our view of it was that if it was a restriction that had been voted on, then we’d have difficulty,” Rogers said. “What we were looking at was an off-the-shelf HOA covenant. We didn’t feel that we had the legal right to outright ban solar.” Working with the board, Rogers’ HOA passed new rules that allow solar to be installed on HOA members’ roofs, but not as ground mount installations.

Rogers, who says he’s had interest in solar since high school, has encouraged his community to deploy more sustainable energy.

“I’ve been talking with neighbors about it for years,” Rogers said. “When you go around and educate people about solar and how efficient it is, you don’t have to talk about global warming. In our case, people can cut their electric bills by 75%.”

Rogers is working with the local school board to encourage solar installations on school buildings. He also is looking for land for the city to buy to install solar that can be used to power city buildings. He hopes to realize this goal within the next several years.

If you’d like to learn more about HOAs and solar, check out our resource page.