Last week, the Supreme Court of North Carolina issued an order in a case between a Wake County homeowner and their homeowner’s association (HOA) affirming state law that protects homeowners’ right to install rooftop solar. The North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the homeowners, as did the North Carolina Attorney General.
The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed a Court of Appeals decision in Belmont Association v. Thomas Farwig, and upheld the right of a homeowner to install rooftop solar that a HOA prohibited, fined, and put a lien on the homeowner’s home for installing. The court held that HOA provisions granting broad discretionary authority to architectural review committees cannot be used to prohibit solar panels. The court also affirmed that the HOA’s architectural review committee could not limit the location of solar panels to the back of the home when that would prevent the reasonable use of the solar panels due to roof orientation.
“The ruling issued by the North Carolina Supreme Court is a significant achievement for homeowner property rights in North Carolina, affirming access to clean, renewable power for those previously denied by their HOAs,” said Peter Ledford, NCSEA’s General Counsel and Director of Policy. “This decision will reduce a significant barrier to the residential solar market in North Carolina, supporting jobs in the rooftop solar industry, and helping homeowners lower their utility bills and clean up the grid.”
The ruling frees up millions of North Carolina homes located in HOA communities to go solar. Blue Raven Solar, the solar installation company that installed the system at issue in the Raleigh neighborhood, said it could not be happier with the Court’s decision.
“North Carolina’s homeowners deserve every right to go solar and reduce their utility bills through energy independence,” said Ben Peterson, Blue Raven CEO. “We are excited about the state’s future with solar energy and the freedom that this decision brings.”
The HOA had argued that the discretionary denial by its architectural review committee of our customer’s rooftop solar, citing aesthetic problems, was permitted under the state’s solar access law even though the customer and other members of this HOA had no notice of prohibitions or restrictions on rooftop solar.
The ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court holds that the state’s solar access law guarantees the use and enjoyment of rooftop solar except for narrow statutorily-prescribed areas, e.g., roof slopes facing a common area, that are set forth in writing and recorded against the property. The Court also recognized that an HOA requirement that solar to be installed on north-facing roof slopes rather than south-facing slopes amounts to a prohibition of solar rather than just a restriction on panel placement because of the material impact solar panel orientation has on energy production and cost of solar.
News item from North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association and Blue Raven Solar