In this photo taken Monday, April 9, 2012, David Dobs poses in front of his home in Cumming, Ga. Dobs’ home owners’ association denied his request to install solar panels on his roof. Georgia lawmakers narrowly defeated a bill this year that would have prevented homeowners associations from banning solar panels. AP Photo/John Bazemore
Ga. (AP)—The government wants you to install solar panels at your
house, and will even give you a tax break to do it. But your neighbors?
a lesson Angel and David Dobs discovered when their homeowners
association north of Atlanta denied their request to install solar
panels on their roof. Neighborhood officials said the panels would look
out of place and might lower home values in a community that regulates
details as fine as the coloring of roof tiles, the planting of trees and
the storage of trash cans.
“It’s like living under communism—someone gets to dictate every possible thing you do,” David Dobs said.
associations around the country have banned or severely restricted the
installation of solar panels, and the solar industry has pushed back to
halt the practice. A recent attempt in Georgia to expand the right to go
solar had support from environmentalists and some Republican lawmakers
concerned about private property rights but it succumbed to opposition
from developers and real estate agents.
two dozen states now forbid or limit homeowners associations or local
governments from banning solar panels, according to a database run by
North Carolina State University. Similar disputes have prompted lawsuits
in Nebraska and California.
and David Dobs supported the Georgia legislation after their run-in
with the homeowners association. David Dobs had viewed the project as
his personal contribution to prevent global warming.
of the Vickery Lake Homeowners Association in Cumming say the dispute
is about architecture and aesthetics, not the merits of solar power.
Homeowners automatically accept the community rules when they purchase a
“We’re not going to debate whether it’s a good idea to have green energy or not,” said Jim Pearson, the association’s president.
debates are likely to keep flaring as more people install solar energy
systems because the equipment is getting cheaper and governments
subsidize the cost. Taxpayers can now deduct 30% of the cost of
installing solar panels from their federal tax bill. Other states and
local governments offer additional incentives.
fight is not new. Some solar rights laws date back to the 1970s, while
other states have added similar measures more recently.
law, first enacted in 1978, prevents homeowners associations from
forcing residents to make aesthetic changes to photovoltaic panels that
raise the cost by more than $2,000 or decrease a system’s efficiency
more than 20%.
disputes in California are worked out privately, but a few have reached
the court system. Last year, a California appellate court upheld a
decision forcing a couple to remove solar panels that were installed in
their yard without the approval of their homeowners association. They
were allowed to keep other panels on their roof.
don’t like the way they look,” said attorney Michael McQueen, who
represented the couple and others in similar disputes. “And (homeowners
associations) are all about looks. Is your lawn green? Are your hedges
Cestero, an attorney for the homeowners association, said neighborhood
leaders were concerned the ground-level panels were not set back far
enough from the street, were inadequately protected from damage and
might cause erosion.
adopted a law last year preventing homeowners associations from totally
blocking solar panels. The law makes clear that residents can install
them on roofs or in fenced-in yards or patios, subject to some limits.
Georgia, the fight between the Dobses and their homeowners association
started in 2010. David Dobs said the rules required that he and his wife
seek permission to build solar panels.
first proposed installing 30 panels on two areas parallel to the slope
of his roof. People could have seen sections of the three-by-five-feet
panels as they walked or drove along the street.
The homeowners association rejected that request and three others from Dobs.
member Jim Graham said that to win approval, the panels would probably
need to be out of view, perhaps mounted in a backyard and obscured by a
fence—though fences too are subject to association approval.
Graham said that if people don’t like the rules, they are free to buy elsewhere.
“They chose to come into this community,” he said.
in Georgia tried to resolve the problem with legislation giving
homeowners associations the rest of the year to decide whether to ban
solar panels. Any neighborhood that did not set a ban by next year would
be unable to stop a homeowner from installing solar panels in the
were limits. Homeowners associations could restrict the panels to roofs
or fenced-in backyards and patios. They could require that panels be
installed parallel to the slope of a roof and ban any backyard solar
equipment that rose higher than the surrounding fence.
Even in states that give homeowners the right to install solar panels, homeowners associations still ban them.
leaders in a Salem, Ore., subdivision rejected Larry Lohrman’s request
to install solar panels on his roof because their rules banned the
equipment, Lohrman said. He successfully argued that a 1979 solar rights
law made that ban illegal, and he and a neighbor helped the association
draft guidelines governing the installation of solar panels.
panels were installed and started producing power in 2010, though
Lohrman said he nearly abandoned the effort in frustration during the
year it took to write the new guidelines for his homeowners association.
just afraid that someone’s going to put up this big, honking ugly thing
that reflects light and just looks ugly,” he said.
Associated Press reporter Kate Brumback contributed to this report.
Source: The Associated Press