Virginia passes law to prevent Homeowner Associations from blocking solar

By Aaron Sutch on March 6, 2020
UPDATE: Governor Northam signed the HOA bill into law on March 11, 2020.

Last week, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation that prevents Homeowner Associations (HOAs) from imposing unreasonable restrictions on your right to go solar.

  • This is a huge solar rights win for Virginia homeowners. Unreasonable HOA restrictions have blocked hundreds of Virginia homeowners from going solar.
  • This legislation is the result of on-the-ground organizing work by the staff, members, and volunteers of Solar United Neighbors — and the diverse coalition that we assembled and led.

What problem does this legislation solve? Back in 2014, Virginia gave HOAs the right to “establish reasonable restrictions concerning the size, place, and manner of placement of … solar energy collection devices.

  • 👉 But… the law did not define what “reasonable restrictions” meant.
  • Some HOAs exploited this loophole, imposing burdensome restrictions that made installing solar unfeasible. The restrictions made systems too expensive or reduced access to sufficient sunlight.
  • Since 2014, this prevented 300+ Virginia homeowners from installing solar.
  • This cost Virginia more than $7 million in lost economic investment.

The new legislation (Senate Bill 504, House Bill 414) defines an HOA restriction to be “unreasonable” if it:

  • ⬆️ Increases system cost by more than 5% over the proposed design. For example: if a proposed restriction on a $20,000 system would increase the cost by $1,000 or more, it’s unreasonable.
  • ⬇️ Decreases system performance by more than 10% over the proposed design. For example: if a proposed restriction on a 10,000 kWh system would decrease energy production to less than 9,000 kWh, it’s unreasonable.

We led a diverse coalition — solar advocates, solar industry representatives, and environmental organizations — that translated into bipartisan support for this change:

  • 🏛 The legislation passed with unanimous consent in the Virginia Senate. It passed 95 to 4 in the Virginia House of Delegates.
  • ✍️ Governor Ralph Northam is expected to sign the legislation by the end of April.
  • 🗓 Once signed, the law will go into effect on July 1, 2020.

A fair balance. Homeowners should be able to exercise their right to go solar. And HOAs should be able to deny solar installations that are unsafe.

  • Many HOAs are good actors who make it easy for their members to go solar. But other HOAs imposed so many unreasonable restrictions, making this legislation necessary. Often, this was a simple lack of education about solar power. In some cases, it was intentional obstruction.
  • We hammered out compromise language with representatives of the HOA association. We agreed to work together to educate HOAs about solar technology. And we’ll be working with the HOA association to resolve issues caused by solar installations that don’t adhere to industry standards.

What’s next? This legislation is a considerable step forward for solar rights. But there are still some details and challenges to work out as it goes into effect this July.

  • HOAs want an independent 3rd-party, NABCEP-certified solar design specialist to review proposed restrictions.
  • Installers want to balance independent review with their interest in keeping proposals confidential.
  • Homeowners want reviews completed without unnecessary delays or unreasonable timelines.

What we learned:

  • We discovered that HOA restrictions blocked more Virginia homeowners from going solar than any utility or regulatory barrier. Local issues like HOA restrictions are largely invisible to people outside of these neighborhoods. Since we work closely with local communities, helping people go solar, we heard about these HOA restrictions directly from homeowners.
  • Local issues get strong support. HOA restrictions were one of the most talked-about topics on our Virginia email listserv. 355 Virginia members told their state legislators to support this legislation. Final tally: ✉️📞 712 emails and phone calls to legislators.
Make a donation to Solar United Neighbors . Help us continue to fight for the solar rights of all Americans — in Virginia and across the United States. ☀️🤝🏘