Q: I want to add solar to my home, but my neighbor, who is a board member of my neighborhood association, tells me that our neighborhood covenant doesn’t allow solar panels to be visible from the street. The problem is, my home faces south, so I really need my panels to be on the front. Can my homeowner’s association really stop me from installing solar panels?
A: Your neighbor is wrong. Maryland law has protected the rights of homeowners to install solar energy systems for decades. Specifically, Section 2-119 (a) of the Real Property Annotated Code of Maryland [pdf] states:
A restrictive covenant regarding land use… may not impose or act to impose unreasonable limitations on the installation of solar collection panels on the roof or exterior walls of improvements.
The original statute allowed restrictions effective on or before July 1, 1980 to remain in place; however, an April, 2008 amendment (H.B. 117 [pdf]) removed the grandfather clause. (Also, the words “solar collection panels” were amended to include all “solar collector systems.”) So even if your neighborhood association’s rule is longstanding, it can’t affect your right to install solar equipment of any kind.
However, there are a few exceptions to the law, so it’s wise to evaluate your situation before investing in your solar system. Exceptions include:
- Historic property. If your home is listed by the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties or the Maryland Register of Historic Properties, your neighborhood covenant may legally restrict you from installing solar energy equipment on your home.
- Ground mounted panels. Solar panels are usually placed on the roofs (or sometimes sides) of buildings, but that’s not always possible. If your home is shaded by trees or other buildings, and you have the yard space, it’s possible to mount the panels a short distance away from the home. However, the since the law protects only equipment installed on the roof or exterior walls, your HOA can legally prevent you from installing ground mounted panels.
- Shared usage rights. Maryland law protecting the rights of homeowners to install solar only applies if you have exclusive rights to the use of the roof or structure.
Even if your situation falls under one of these exceptions, you may still be able to install your solar system. You will just have to work with your homeowner’s association to obtain their permission. If you go this route, be prepared to make concessions if necessary. While they’re not guaranteed to approve your plans, you may find that a cooperative attitude and a little education can work wonders – and result in an installation your whole neighborhood can feel good about.