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Ask the County Law Librarian – Solar Panels and HOAs

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Q. I recently submitted an Architectural Modification Application to install solar panels on my roof. The application was approved but with a caveat that said, “Every effort must be made to reduce/minimize visibility of the panels from the streets.” This is ridiculous. If you can see the roof from the street, you can see the solar panels. Am I correct in assuming that the HOA cannot legally stop me from installing solar panels? I believe the caveat is an attempt to deny the installation without denying it and that after I spend $30K on this array, they intend to tell me to remove it.


A. Unfortunately I cannot give you a definitive answer to your specific situation. If you need that kind of assistance, you should probably consult a lawyer. I can give you the information about the applicable laws:

California’s Solar Rights Act of 1978 (California Civil Code Section 714) prohibits HOAs from interfering with the installation of residential solar panels, but the law does allow for “reasonable restrictions” on solar energy systems.

Civil Code §714 (b) states:

“[R]easonable restrictions on a solar energy system are those restrictions that do not 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.”

Civil Code §714 (d) defines “significantly” as follows:

“(1) (A) For solar domestic water heating systems or solar swimming pool heating systems that comply with state and federal law, “significantly” means an amount exceeding 20 percent of the cost of the system or decreasing the efficiency of the solar energy system by an amount exceeding 20 percent, as originally specified and proposed.

(B) For photovoltaic systems that comply with state and federal law, “significantly” means an amount not to exceed two thousand dollars ($2,000) over the system cost as originally specified and proposed, or a decrease in system efficiency of an amount exceeding 20 percent as originally specified and proposed.”

The reasonableness of a restriction that does not impact cost or efficiency is not defined. If the question were to go to court, the jury or judge would decide what is reasonable in the specific case. So in your case, if the HOA demanded changes that would raise the cost by more than $2,000 or cut efficiency by more than 20%, it would be unreasonable. Other types of requirements would depend on the circumstances.

“Every effort” is not a legally defined term, as far as I could find, so it would be up to the judge or jury to decide if it is a reasonable requirement.

You can visit your local county public law library to research more on this issue, including what the California courts do consider “reasonable restrictions.” To find the public law library nearest you, visit www.publiclawlibrary.org

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email sacpress@saclaw.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in my next column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning

@coralh & @saclawlibrarian











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