Written by Kelly G. Richardson

Q: I have been trying to get solar panels installed on my shared roof, which is maintained by the HOA. The CCRs state that the HOA can ask for removal of solar panels for maintenance, and the HOA is trying to force me to remove the panels twice every year so that the roofing vendors can perform maintenance. This will cost me at least $2,500 for each instance.

When I spoke to the roofing company they said they don’t need to have the panels removed to perform the work, but my HOA fails to budge. They’ve now had the lawyers send me an email saying that the HOA is within its rights to ask for reasonable restrictions around maintenance. Does this go against Civil Code 714? — D.I., San Jose

A: The law prohibits “unreasonable” restrictions against solar installations, and if the contractor says it’s unnecessary to remove the solar panels twice a year, that expense does sound unreasonable.

It’s not unusual to ask homeowners to agree to remove panels if roof repairs require it, but you are saying it is not necessary. If the HOA is forcing you to spend $2,500 twice a year, that could possibly violate Civil Code Section 714(b) by “significantly” increasing the cost of your system.

The key here is whether it is truly necessary to take your panels off so frequently. Pursuing some dialogue with the HOA and sharing with them the roofer’s information hopefully will avoid unnecessary conflict on this.

Q: We live in a condo and I submitted solar plans for approval to our HOA. Over two months after submitting my application, I reached out for a status update, nothing. I spoke with the solar company who said that after 45 days if I don’t hear a response the plans are considered approved.

I still have not heard anything back. If I move forward with my solar installation what is the backlash I can receive from the HOA and am I in my rights to move forward because I never received a letter and they have been incredibly unresponsive over the past three months? — S.V., Morgan Hill

A: Since your home is a condominium, the roof is most likely a common area. By installing solar panels on the roof, you are not just pursuing an architectural change to your property, you are seeking to change the common area. So, I don’t think the architectural approval time limit (and the automatic approval for a non-response) would apply to that proposed roof installation because you don’t own the roof. So, the legal advice from the solar company sounds like very bad advice.

Just moving forward to install your system may result in litigation from the HOA. Try to engage in dialogue with your HOA. They must learn that the laws about solar installations (Civil Code 714, 714.1, and 7546) really favor solar and that the HOA could be at risk if they don’t reasonably cooperate within the boundaries of the law.

The board may not be as knowledgeable as you regarding what the law requires, so share information with them. Hostility or even legal action should be the very last option – remember, these folks are still your neighbors! Best regards, Kelly

Kelly G. Richardson, Esq. is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and Partner of Richardson Ober LLP, a California law firm known for community association expertise. Submit column questions to Kelly@roattorneys.com .

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