Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. For a homeowner who installs solar panels on her roof, the electric cost savings make the solar panels an exquisite conversation piece, but perhaps for some of her neighbors who haven’t yet “gone solar,” those same solar panels may be an unwelcome sight. In fact, it is not uncommon for homeowners to be discouraged from installing solar equipment, even unintentionally, by their community associations. Community associations, as well as homeowners, should be aware of what Florida law allows and prohibits, and should guide their review and approval processes accordingly.
Initially, one might ask: Why would a homeowner’s association want to stop a homeowner from putting solar panels on a roof in the first place? That’s because in the past solar arrays consisted mostly of large, dark blue slates bound in shiny aluminum framing and bolted to the roof, often in a conspicuous place if that place faces south. Roofing connoisseurs with high standards cruising through the neighborhood may have previously thought that such displays were unsightly. However, building-integrated photovoltaics (“BIPVs”) are not far from becoming widely commercially available. BIPVs are sleek, flexible solar-energy materials that blend seamlessly into the structure of roofs, walls, and windows. In the not-too-distant future, roofs themselves will incorporate visually pleasing solar capabilities, as may be the case with solar shingles or Elon Musk’s recently unveiled solar roof. Even so, having come a long way in terms of their aesthetic qualities, solar panels with elegant, modern profiles and designs are today’s go-to choice for Florida homeowners who are looking to save money over the system’s life-span and hedge against ever-rising electric rates.
So what does a homeowner do when the community association has the homeowner jumping through hoops and, whether intended or not, the hoops have the effect of discouraging the homeowner from going solar at all?
Under Florida law, a community association’s ability to restrict a homeowner from installing solar panels is limited to determining where to install them—so long as the solar panels still operate effectively where they are installed. See Florida Statutes, Chapter 163.04(2), which allows a community association to determine the solar array’s specific location, so long as that location faces within forty-five degrees east or west of due south, absent other conditions that may impair the panels’ effective operation, such as the shade of a big tree or other permanent structure, for example.
When it comes to rooftop solar installations, it is critically important that a community association carefully craft limitations, as well as the procedures for applying those limitations, so as to comply with Florida law.
Tim Hughes is an attorney in the Solar Industry Practice Group at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP. This article was produced with the significant contributions of Clinton S. Morrell, Esq., who counsels stakeholders in solar installations involving community associations and deed restrictions, covenants, declarations, and similar agreements.