A Court of Appeal recently upheld the ability of a homeowners association to regulate the installation of solar panels based on aesthetic and other considerations, and to order homeowners to remove solar panels that had not been approved under the covenants, conditions, and restrictions of the housing development. While state law prohibits homeowners associations from adopting regulations which effectively prohibit solar panel installation, they may impose reasonable restrictions. (Tesoro Del Valle Master Homeowners Association v. Griffin (— Cal.Rptr.3d —-, Cal.App. 2 Dist., November 1, 2011).)
Martin and Carolyn Griffin purchased a home on a corner lot in the Tesoro del Valle development in 2005. The Griffins decided they wanted to install a solar energy system on a slope adjacent to their property. In 2007, they submitted an application to install the system to the Tesoro del Valle Master Homeowners Association (the “HOA”). The HOA’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions (the “CC&Rs”) provide that homeowners must obtain approval before making improvements on their property, including any changes to the slope areas that are near the properties in the development. Homeowners also have a duty to maintain landscaping on the slopes. The HOA’s Design Guidelines provide that pursuant to Civil Code section 714, the HOA can place reasonable restrictions on the installation of solar energy systems.
The Griffins decided to install 36 solar panels on their roof and 22 panels on the slope and signed a contract for installation prior to receiving approval from the HOA. The HOA eventually denied the Griffins’ application to install solar panels. The denial letter suggested that the Griffins consider placing the panels on the roof of the casita that is adjacent to their home. The HOA expressed concern about the Griffins placing panels on the slope because it is located at the entry to the neighborhood and the panels would be within the line of sight of adjacent homes. Also, the CCRs prohibit the alteration or removal of landscaping on the slope due to the impact on drainage.
The Griffins began construction despite the HOA Board’s denial of their application. The HOA directed the Griffins to return the slope to its original condition. After the Griffins continued with installation of the panels on the slope, the HOA filed a lawsuit to enforce the CC&Rs. A jury found in favor of the HOA and the trial court ordered the Griffins to remove the panels from the slope and return it to its original condition.
Civil Code section 714 prohibits a homeowners association from imposing restrictions on homeowners which effectively prohibit installation of solar energy systems. However, homeowners associations may impose “reasonable restrictions” on the installation of such systems if the restrictions do not significantly increase the cost of the solar energy system or reduce a system’s efficiency or performance. A homeowners association may also impose restrictions that allow for installation of an alternative comparable system. The Court of Appeal concluded there was substantial evidence to support the jury’s findings that the HOA’s CC&Rs imposed reasonable restrictions on solar energy systems. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal affirmed the decision of the trial court.
The CC&Rs allow the HOA to consider the aesthetics of a solar energy system when considering a homeowner’s application. The Court held that nothing in Civil Code section 714 prohibits a homeowners association from considering the aesthetic impacts of solar energy systems. In fact, section 714 provides that an application for approval of a solar energy system shall be processed and approved by a homeowners association in the same manner as an application for the architectural modification of a property. The Court concluded that this provision indicates the Legislature anticipated that aesthetics would be considered when evaluating a proposed solar energy system. The HOA could consider the aesthetic impact of the solar panels when making a decision about the Griffins’ application. The Court of Appeal upheld the order of the trial court directing the Griffins to remove the solar panels from the slope and return the slope to its original condition.
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Jon E. Goetz | 805.786.4302