HOA Solar Rules in Virginia

A homeowners’ association (HOA) is a private association formed either in a building with multiple owner-occupancies or by a real-estate developer1. Their primary purpose is maintaining common areas and protecting property values2.

HOAs in Virginia are regulated by the Property Owners’ Association Act. This act applies to all common interest communities created in Virginia. HOA can only prohibit solar energy collection devices such as solar panels from being installed if the HOA recorded declaration establishes such a prohibition. The original declaration does not include individually owned properties or board-adopted rules or regulations3 & 4. (See Virginia code section 55.1-1820.0)

In Virginia, your HOA has the power to:  
1. Collect assessments for common expenses
2. Regulate common areas
3. Collect changes to maintain and operate the common areas
4. Collect charges for late payments of assessments
5. Suspend a member’s rights to use facilities or services
6. Levy reasonable fines
7. Foreclose homes for unpaid liens
*Your HOA can also grant further powers such as restrictions on home ownership, exterior paint colors, fencing, and parking requirements.

An HOA CANNOT fine a homeowner for or generally prohibit any of the following 
1. Displaying the American flag so long as the flag is displayed in a manner consistent with federal flag display law
2. Installing solar energy panels 
3. Installing satellite dishes and antennas
4. Installing electric vehicle charging stations
*Your HOA may include reasonable rules and regulations regarding the placement and manner of display of your solar panels.

While an HOA cannot prohibit you from installing solar (unless the recorded declaration for the association establishes such a prohibition), they can place reasonable restrictions on the concerning size, place, and manner of placement of such installation. These restrictions include board-adopted rules and regulations governing the visibility of the panels, the number and size of the panels, screening requirements, and permissible locations. While the association has the right to place such restrictions and regulations, they can be challenged and found unreasonable under the application statute5. (Section 55.1-1820.1 of the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act and Section 55.1-1951.1 of the Virginia Condominium Act)

Under these statutes, a restriction is deemed not to be reasonable if:
1. The restriction increases the installation cost of the solar energy collection by five percent over the proposed installation case.
2. The restriction reduces the energy production by the solar energy collection device by ten percent below the projected energy production of the initially proposed installation.

Reasonableness can be challenged, for example, if the restriction requires solar panels to be placed on the rear roof or prohibited from being placed on the front roof. This can be challenged when only the front or south-facing roof receives sufficient sunlight.

For a homeowner to successfully challenge the solar restriction in the association rule, a homeowner must provide documentation provided by a solar design specialist that is 1) independent, 2) NABCEP-Certified, and 3) licensed in Virginia.

The documentation provided by the solar panel design specialist needs show that the restrictions placed are not reasonable and either increase the installation cost by 5% or reduce energy production by 10%. The association may require documentation to be provided prior to the installation.

Another area that one should keep in mind is that a HOA can also require you to go through a regular architectural review process (ARB). If the architectural standards are unmet, the association can deny your proposal. However, the ARB can require you to substantiate your compliance with the Virginia solar access laws but cannot require restrictions that go beyond those allowed. Similar to the HOA, the ARB must accept your proposal if you can supply the additional documentation from a NABCEP-certified solar panel design specialist who is licensed in Virginia showing that the association restrictions are unreasonable.

If you are considering solar and live in a HOA community, read your HOA declaration and contact your board with any questions. HOA documents are public records in Virginia; they must be recorded with the county land records to be enforceable. To obtain your HOA documents visit your local county clerk’s office.

Nova Solar is a design specialist who is licensed in Virginia and is NABCEP-certified. We can provide you with the documentation required to deem the restrictions placed by your HOA are not reasonable. Click the following link to complete the analysis information form and receive your free HOA production analysis! https://novasolar.com/hoa-production-analysis/.

References:

  1. WikiPedia
  2. Clark Simson Miller
  3. iProperty Management.
  4. Virginia Law
  5. Chadwick Washington Moriarty Elmore & Bunn P.C.

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