Some 300,000 homeowner associations (HOAs) exist in the United States, according to data from the Community Association Institute. These associations oversee the private and common property interests of almost 60 million U.S. residents. Currently no federal legislation addresses the rules homeowner associations may impose on their residents regarding installation of solar panels and windmills. As of 2010, homeowners living in covenant-controlled housing developments abide by HOA restrictions that frequently outline what energy-efficient products are allowed.
Zoning regulations generally say homeowners may not erect any structure taller than 35 feet. The U.S. Small Wind Turbine Industry explains that small wind turbine towers require a height of at least 60 feet to function effectively. This elevates the windmills above even taller trees and other obstacles. Homeowner associations follow local zoning guidelines when deciding to approve or deny requests to install windmills. The homeowner who lives in a covenant-controlled housing development should discuss the desire to set up a windmill with the local zoning department first. If he receives an exception, he should contact the HOA for the organization's approval.
The ability of homeowner associations to forbid roof-installed solar panels depends on the deeding of the property and state laws governing these deeds. For example, the Arizona Court of Appeals has said no homeowner association has the right to be more restrictive on the rights of a homeowner than the state's own public policy. In this case, an HOA unsuccessfully attempted to compel a homeowner to remove roof-installed solar panels. This request was found to be in violation of Arizona Revised Statute Section 33-439, a 1979 law that ensured property owners' rights to use roofs for the installation of such panels. The State of Illinois drafted legislation that features similar rules under its Homeowners' Solar Energy Act.
HOA Rights and Duties
Even as the power of the HOA to prohibit solar panel installations wanes, legislatures recognize that these associations have the right to enforce guidelines regarding size and location for the installations. In Illinois, House Bill 5429 outlines the duties and rights of the homeowners associations. The HOA has the right to determine where on the building a homeowner may install solar panels. Associations decide the kinds of designs they will approve, and specify architectural requirements a fully installed solar energy system must meet.
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Community Association Institute Facts and Figures
- U.S. Small Wind Turbine Industry: Windmill Zoning Restrictions
- Western's Renewable Resource Program: Explanation of Arizona Revised Statute Section 33-439
- Western's Renewable Resource Program: Illinois' Homeowners' Solar Energy Act
- Illinois General Assembly: Illinois House Bill 5429
- Photo Credit Solar energy image by lefebvre_jonathan from Fotolia.com
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