The California Legislature understands the importance of energy efficiency. That’s a big part of why it implemented the California Solar Rights Act, articulated in Civil Code section 714 and 714.1. This statue prevents HOA governing documents from effectively restricting or prohibiting the installation of solar energy systems in the interest of individual homeowners. Good news.
However, “[t]his section does not apply to provisions that impose reasonable restrictions on solar energy systems.” (Civ. Code § 714(b)). Fortunately, unlike other statutes, the Legislature is specific on what constitutes a “reasonable restriction.”
To be “reasonable,” a restriction cannot “significantly increase the cost of the system or significantly decrease its efficiency or specified performance, or that allow for an alternative system of comparable cost, efficiency, and energy conservation benefits.” (Ibid). The Legislature goes on to specifically state what significant increase in cost and significant decrease in efficiency mean.
If a restriction results in either: (i) a 10% increase in cost (but in no case more than a $1,000 increase in cost) or; (ii) a decrease in efficiency exceeding 10% of the specifications detailed in the initial submittal, that restriction will be void and enforceable. This makes application to single-family homes within an HOA rather straightforward. But what does it mean for multi-family homeowners (e.g., shared-wall townhomes, condominiums, etc.)?
That is where Civil Code section 4746 comes in. This code grants homeowners who live in multi-family developments the ability to install solar energy systems on common area roofs, garages and carports. But it also authorizes some additional restrictive authority to the HOA. First, the HOA must require both that: (i) “the applicant/owner notify each owner of a unit in the building sharing the roof of the application, and;” (ii) “the owner and each successive owner to maintain a homeowner liability coverage policy at all times and provide the association with the corresponding certificate of insurance within 14 days of approval of the application and annually thereafter.” (Civ. Code §4746(a)). In addition to these mandatory requirements, section 4746 also authorizes the HOA to impose some additional, non-mandatory restrictions.
So, while multi-family homeowners do face some additional requirements when compared with their single-family counterparts, those restrictions are specifically articulated by the Legislature. This means that HOAs do not get to exercise draconian measures against energy conscious multi-family homeowners. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that your HOA isn’t willfully ignoring the law. It also doesn’t necessarily contemplate every set of facts. For example, let’s say you apply for a solar energy system, the HOA approves it with no reference to additional requirements, and subsequently tries to impose additional common area maintenance obligations on you. Or the HOA attempts to force you to disclose responsibilities that were never articulated in the approval of the solar energy system. Those are common circumstances the Legislature has not specifically provided instruction for.
If you find yourself in circumstances like that, or any circumstance in which your HOA is attempting to restrict you from installing a solar energy system, you should call the aggressive HOA attorneys at Lubin Caplin + Pham LLP. They will develop an appropriate strategy to deal with your HOA, and help you get your solar energy system installed as soon as practicable.