Southwest Florida Home with Great Roof for Solar

Solar Panels With Homeowners and Condo Associations (HOA) in Florida

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Being good neighbors, most of us are concerned about what neighbors may think when we endeavor to install solar panel on a home. We are frequently asked the question,

“Can my Homeowners Association (HOA) or Condo Association prevent me from installing solar panels or tell me where to put them.”

Generally speaking, the answer is NO, a homeowners association is not able to prevent you from installed solar panels, and that is solidly in law in Florida Statute 163.04. This statute does give the association some power to tell you where to put solar panels, but only if it will not impair the effective operation of the system. While some HOAs would like to dictate that solar panels cannot be placed on the front of the home or visible from the street (or golf course or waterway), the law is clear, and they cannot make such restrictions. In fact, it is extremely rare that an HOA would be able to dictate where to put solar panels anywhere other than the location that makes the most sense from a performance standpoint. The law has been challenged, upheld, and courts have sided very clearly with homeowners on this issue.

From a practical standpoint, you don’t want to end up in a battle with your neighbors or your neighborhood. Most community boards and especially professional management companies are well aware of the law, and rarely present any trouble as a result. Solar is so ubiquitous in Southwest Florida that it is accepted in most every community to install solar panels with few restrictions. Some communities require that you paint pipes and equipment to match the home, but even that can be challenged under the law because it may have the effect of prohibiting the installation of solar collectors and goes against the intent of the law. Most people just comply if the cost is minimal and don’t ruffle any feathers with their neighbors.

The orientation and placement is usually the biggest sticking point. Take, for example, the home pictured below. The most southerly facing roof, the largest roof surface, is the roof that would be most productive for a solar panel system. It is also the only roof that a HOA can dictate that you place your solar panels. If you wanted to place solar panels on the small roof at the back of this house (West-Southwest), the HOA could require that you exhaust the usable space on the South-Southeast roof first. They cannot force you to put solar panels on the roof at the back of the house because it is not withing 45 degrees of true south orientation. In other words, the homeowner would be in the  driver’s seat with regards to location of the solar panels on this home, as is usually the case unless the homeowner chooses to place solar panels where they are less productive, which would be pretty rare.

Southwest Florida Home with Great Roof for Solar

The home pictured here has only one suitable roof, and only one roof where an HOA can dictate placement.

 

The full text of Florida Statute 163.04 (2014) appears below:

163.04 Energy devices based on renewable resources.

(1) Notwithstanding any provision of this chapter or other provision of general or special law, the adoption of an ordinance by a governing body, as those terms are defined in this chapter, which prohibits or has the effect of prohibiting the installation of solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy devices based on renewable resources is expressly prohibited.
(2) A deed restriction, covenant, declaration, or similar binding agreement may not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy devices based on renewable resources from being installed on buildings erected on the lots or parcels covered by the deed restriction, covenant, declaration, or binding agreement. A property owner may not be denied permission to install solar collectors or other energy devices by any entity granted the power or right in any deed restriction, covenant, declaration, or similar binding agreement to approve, forbid, control, or direct alteration of property with respect to residential dwellings and within the boundaries of a condominium unit. Such entity may determine the specific location where solar collectors may be installed on the roof within an orientation to the south or within 45° east or west of due south if such determination does not impair the effective operation of the solar collectors.
(3) In any litigation arising under the provisions of this section, the prevailing party shall be entitled to costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.
(4) The legislative intent in enacting these provisions is to protect the public health, safety, and welfare by encouraging the development and use of renewable resources in order to conserve and protect the value of land, buildings, and resources by preventing the adoption of measures which will have the ultimate effect, however unintended, of driving the costs of owning and operating commercial or residential property beyond the capacity of private owners to maintain. This section shall not apply to patio railings in condominiums, cooperatives, or apartments.

Comments

  1. Our condo assoc lawyer just advised the board to deny application for solar roof panels on unit. Reason- owner does not own roof. slo board fesrd damage yo exisying dttucture- roof is 20 years old.Am I reading this correctly that the owners have a basis for legal suit?

    1. Author

      Susan, to answer your question, you are not reading it correctly. If the condo association owns the roof, they can do whatever they want with regards to restricting solar panels. You don’t own the roof. It’s considered a common element. This article pertains to HOAs and some condos where the unit owner also owns the roof. If you are responsible for maintenance and replacement of your roof, it is probably not a common element and you would have a case. It sounds like in your case the roof is owned by the condo. You will have no basis to challenge the association.

  2. Hello, I am in the process of having my solar project approved for my home in sw Miami dade with my HOA. They are mailing a formal response to me, after supposedly sending it to the property mangagement company attorney for his/her blessing and having me wait over 3 weeks. My question is this…. I believe I understand the Solar rights law as it reads, but, can an HOA dictate the type of panel that can be used(I.e. Shingle style PVs as opposed to standard black PV panels)? I think this is what they are attempting to have me do for approval.
    Thanks

    1. Author

      They definitely can’t do that. It would drastically impede the performance and cost astronomically more than standard framed PV modules. This would fall under something that would make it cost unreasonably more, making it illegal.

  3. Hi I am curious to how this law impacts the ability for ground mounted systems. My HOA does not allow for detached building without approval yet I dont think a solar cluster is a building.

    1. Author

      The law does not prohibit a HOA from denying you the right to install ground-mounted solar arrays. The statute only covers solar panels on a roof of a residential structure up to three stories in height. The statute does prevent the HOA from forcing you to install a ground mounted system, however.

      In your case, a ground-mounted array would be considered a separate structure, and the HOA is within its rights to prevent it.

  4. I live in a Condo Association. My patio/lanai is south-west facing and has a large vacant wall area that I could potentially install solar panels. The condominium documents say this wall and entire patio/lanai is a limited common element and exclusive to my unit. Most of my neighbors hang artwork on this wall; a couple have installed a TV. One neighbor has a dart board. I don’t see any reason why the HOA could restrict my right to use this wall for a small grid tie system. What is your thought about using this wall for a solar system?

    1. Author

      A photovoltaic system mounted on a wall would perform very poorly at out latitude. It would produce roughly 40% less on a southwest wall than at the optimum tilt on a southwest roof. If there is an eave or any shading, it would be even worse.

  5. I am on the Board of an HOA – the units are townhomes and the owners own the roof but the Association does repair and replacement for usual wear. If owner was to place Solar Panels on the roof could we refuse any future repair or replacement of the roof area because of the alteration of structure?

    1. Author

      Judy, that’s an interesting question. I suspect it comes down to what’s written in your HOA documents. I suspect that since the alteration was made by an owner, they would be required to remove the solar panels for roof repair/replacement, but the HOA would still be responsible for their part. I can draw a parallel – I installed hurricane shutters at a condo I own on a lanai. When the association needed to replace the lanai railing and screens and drop edges, owners were required to remove shutters at their own cost prior to the work, and required to put them up after the work again at their own cost. I suspect that if my shutters did damage to any of the structure that the association maintains, that I would have been responsible as well. I would advise you to consult your attorney to be sure, but this seems to make sense.

  6. Hello. We applied for thin film solar panels with our HOA. Our application was denied as the HOA said solar panels are approved, but not a metal roof. A metal roof is required to install the thin film solar panels. The panels can not be applied to a shingle roof. The HOA documents do not dictate which type of solar panels can be installed. We want to go with thin film panels and a metal roof due to being able to withstand high wind speeds. Can we be denied a solar panel system because it requires a metal roof? Thanks

    1. Author

      Yes, an HOA can dictate your roof type. There are solar products that work on all roof types. They are not denying you solar

      Thin film is nowhere near as efficient (power and cost efficient). Virtually nobody installs adhesive thin film panels anymore. Traditional crystalline framed modules are industry standard for a good reason. Wind resistance is addressed by good design and installation practices. Having just gone through Hurricane Irma, I can tell you unequivocally that the threat is minimal. Flying debris is a greater threat, and that applies to thin film also.

      I think you are headed down the wrong path. Thin film adhesive panels aren’t all they are said to be. Pretty much every major manufacturer is out of business. I wouldn’t offer or recommend this product.

  7. So, the HOA can deny us which type of solar panels WE want to use? Thanks.

    1. Author

      The law addresses only performance in general terms. Since another kind of panel would technically perform better, I believe they would be well within their rights under Florida Statutes. And the roof type restriction is not related to the solar panels anyway. They are not denying you solar panels. They are denying you a metal roof.

      Frankly, I don’t even know where you would buy a thin film adhesive solar panel anymore. They can’t even be used with modern power optimizers or microinverters. Their usefulness is very limited. I understand your concern, but it’s not shared by many. The industry has come a long way with attachment and flashing options. There are other problems with thin film adhesive panels that also detract from the benefits (i.e. thermal cycling, adhesive longevity, power degradation, high DC voltage, wire management, repair/replacement, design limitations, warranty length and backing, etc).

  8. If the roof needs to be replaced in a COA where the association owns the roof who is responsible for the cost to remove and reinstall the solar panels. 2 of our 7 units have installed solar panels to heat their pools with board approval.

    1. Author

      You should contact your attorney on this one. If it isn’t explicitly addressed in your association documents, it could be open to interpretation. It stands to reason that the unit owner modified the common element, so they would be responsible for the cost of getting it out of the way for repair/replacement. After all, if the roof was owned by that unit owner, they would have to bear the cost. It just seems fair that way.

  9. We are in Naples, FL and got hit directly by Hurricane Irma. We thought our roof was fine, because from ground level everything appeared unchanged. Fast forward 7 months, and now we are beginning the rainy season. Our daughter found water in the corner of her room the other day, so my husband called a friend in the roofing business. He got up on our roof and found that the whole roof is compromised because the barrel tiles were easily lifted in the winds. He says that these tiles can now fly off very easily in the next storm. Getting to my point, if my neighborhood was built in 2004 with all homes having barrel tile roofs, and it has now been shown that a metal roof is more energy efficient and will hold up to wind better than our existing roof did, how could my HOA prevent me from protecting my property with a new metal roof that is more energy efficient and wind resistant than a barrel tile one? Can they prevent me from using the most energy efficient materials just because my roof materials aren’t the same as my neighbors? I’m pretty sure my homeowner’s insurance would prefer a metal roof, so they don’t have to replace the roof again with the next big storm. We want a roof for the long term and don’t feel that old rules and construction methods should outweigh making the right choice for such a large investment. Given the energy efficiency, wouldn’t a metal roof qualify as an approved energy efficient device and be allowed regardless of what the HOA says?

    1. Author

      This statute does not address roof type, and it is my understanding that Florida law allows HOAs a lot of latitude in maintaining the architectural homogeneity of their communities. I personally don’t prefer the boring cookie-cutter look where all homes are seemingly unidentifiable but to each their own. Before you choose to live in a community with an HOA, I recommend you review the community documents and talk to people to determine how strict the architectural review board is regarding roof types and solar panels. There are a wide range of practices and roadblocks that HOAs can put up (i.e. long wait times for architectural review, damage deposits, visual shielding, etc). While there are clear advantages of HOA communities, you may find some that are “better” than others for your purposes. This is often a shock to new Florida residents, where HOAs are prevalent in new communities.

      It sounds like you are stuck with a tile roof, but there are ways to make them more wind resistant. For example, I have seen some recently going in with two screws rather than one, and tile roof foam adhesives are incredibly strong. For example, we are the only local contractor to use the foam set tile method where we actually increase the wind resistance in the area where we install solar pool heating panels. We found after Hurricane Irma that many roofs were damaged, but the area where the solar panels were installed was completely fine!

      It’s also important to note that we saw mostly ridge and hip caps torn off roofs. I would focus on that if I were getting a new roof installed. We’re not roofers, but there has to be a more secure way of installing this part of the roof. I suspect a foam set method would help, but again, I’m not a roofer.

    2. Author

      I’ll also note that new codes have been implemented that will make your 2018 roof more wind resistant than your 2004 roof. Design wind speeds have increased and materials and methods have improved. We see most tile roofs being installed over a peel and stick underlayment rather than asphaltic underlayments, which is probably what you have now.

  10. The front of our house (Florida) faces southeast. The planned installation of the solar panels is primarily on the left side of the house (facing southwest), however, they could not fit all of the solar panels on the side and need to install 4 solar panels on the front facing side. After initial review by the committee, they made a site visit and I advised them and handed a copy of the Florida Solar Rights Act. The committee consulted with the HOA attorney and rejected my request using other ridiculous excuses. The contractor made a second visit to see if they can find a compromise (now they will only need 2 solar panels on the front of the house and on a different front facing roof section. They advised me that any other location would affect production. and we will resubmitting the request addressing all of their excuses. This has been dragging out for over a month. How long can the HOA committee play their games. Do I have recourse to install and bring litigation if they fine us.

    1. Author

      Barry… So frustrating. The law does not give a timeframe, but I think you would have a good case if the HOA is being nonresponsive, frivolous, or obstructionists. An attorney would probably advise you to get approval before you proceed, since starting a project without getting approval could open you up to fines. This is one of those cases for asking permission rather than forgiveness is probably the best route. If you know one, I would get an attorney to write a sternly written demand letter to compel them to approve your project under the threat of litigation. The statute specifically allows you to recover attorney fees.

      I’d be curious to see what silly excuses they are using.

      You might also contact your local news or share your experience on social media. Sometimes a little pressure from publicizing issues goes a long way.

  11. I live in an HOA townhouse community with common roofs. Individual owners do Not own the roof. It is common property. Does the statute give an individual owner the right to install panels in the roof above their home in this type of HOA common roof situation?

    1. Author

      No. If you don’t own the roof, you have no such right. Think of it this way… If there is an upstairs and a downstairs unit, who would have the right to the roof immediately above those units? Regardless, common property in a condo is intended for common use, not for the sole benefit of an individual unit owner. The condo association could install solar panels to offset usage on the house utility meter to reduce expenses for the overall community.

  12. Hello,

    I live in a single family home with an HOA. I recently had solar panels installed on both the south and west facing sides on my home. The south facing side is the front of the house and produces more energy than all other sides. The HOA is saying I cannot have solar panels on the front of the house and says solar panels cannot be visible by the street. Does the HOA have the right to tell me to move my solar panels?

    1. Author

      No, they don’t. Not in Florida. Cite the statute, tell them to send it to their attorney, and hire your own if necessary.

  13. Thank you Jason. I will try citing the statute. Hopefully it doesn’t progress far enough to need an attorney.

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