Solar Panels: Let the Sunshine In But Only After Approval

Written by: on Thursday, July, 20th, 2017

Colorado law prohibits associations from adopting rules or regulations that effectively prohibit the installation of solar panels on homeowners’ properties, but associations are allowed to adopt reasonable rules governing such installation, which can be based on aesthetic considerations and to prohibit solar panels on common areas. Such rules must also not significantly increase the cost of the solar panels or significantly decrease the effectiveness of the panels.

California has an almost identical statute, which was tested by owners in Tesoro Del Valle Master Homeowners Association. In this particular case, the Griffins, who lived in the Tesoro Del Valle community, decided to install solar panels not only on the roof of their house, but also on a slope adjacent to their property. Prior to installing the solar panels, they submitted an application for approval as was required in the governing documents. The association denied the Griffin’s request to install the solar panels on the basis that the solar panels installed on the slope would be within the line of sight of adjacent homes. The denial was also based on the restrictive covenant that prohibited alteration or removal of landscaping on the slope due to drainage issues. Despite the denial, the Griffins began installation of 36 solar panels on their roof and 22 solar panels on the slope. The association then filed a lawsuit against the Griffins to enforce its covenants and restrictions. A California jury found in favor of the association and this decision was later affirmed by the Court of Appeals. The Appellate Court referred to the California statute allowing associations to impose restrictions with respect to installation of solar panels that do not “significantly increase the cost of the solar energy system or reduce a system’s efficiency or performance.”

This verbiage is almost identical to the verbiage found in Colorado statute, which begs the question of: how does, or will, this case impact associations in Colorado? Although the California case is not binding on Colorado courts, it’s certainly a case that can be brought up as authority to support an association’s denial of a request to install solar panels based on aesthetic concerns. Also, this case seems to imply that having written standards in place specifically providing what will and will not be allowed is helpful in enforcing a denial of solar panel installation. Does your community have such written standards in place? If not, you should consider adopting a resolution setting forth such standards. If you have any questions regarding solar panels in your association, please contact any of our attorneys at (303) 432-9999.