HOAs Can't Block Your Solar Panels if You Live in These States

Your local homeowners association might not share your solar ambitions, but they might not have the right to stop you.

Aerial view of solar panels on roofs in a neighborhood.

Even if you live in under the most tyrannical of HOA boards, they might not be able to stop your solar moment.

Richard Newstead/Getty Images

Living with a homeowners association can be a great deal. It usually means amenities like a swimming pool and a landscaping service, but alongside those perks comes extra rules (and a fee).

Some homeowners associations, commonly referred to as HOAs, have decided that solar panels are an eyesore or undesirable and have crafted rules that make it difficult or downright impractical for member homeowners to install a solar energy system. Conflicts over adding solar panels to the neighborhood can become quite contentious and have led to actions from courts and lawmakers across the country.

Rising energy costs, greater control over your electricity use, long-term savings and climate change are all reasons to go solar. While a federal tax credit and a mishmash of other incentives make solar panels an attractive option, depending where you live (at the state, local and even neighborhood level) you might have a few more hurdles to jump.

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Here's a primer on what you need to know about the option of adding solar under an HOA.

Does an HOA get to decide if I can have solar panels?

Maybe. A number of laws in various states establish the right of homeowners to go solar and reduce the ability of HOAs to stand in their way. But as with nearly everything in the solar universe, how these rules apply depends on where you live and your specific situation.

Some states have passed laws or had court rulings that say HOAs can't keep people from installing solar panels. For example, in 2022, the North Carolina Supreme Court and the Indiana legislature limited HOAs' power over solar panel installations.

But not all states have laws that guarantee HOA residents the right to install solar panels, leaving homeowners there without much legal leverage.

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What are solar access laws?

Solar access laws allow residents to install solar, even if they live in an HOA. Laws vary by state, from guaranteeing residents of HOAs the right to put up solar panels to outlining just how far an association can go in controlling the design and implementation of a solar system. 

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Garrett Mendelsohn, CEO of Solar Bootcamp, told CNET some laws protecting the right to solar access make clear that an HOA can't ask a homeowner to relocate or re-design a solar system if it would cause a drop in energy production by a set percentage and/or increase the cost of the system by a certain amount. 

"It's becoming more common," he said. "Some states don't enforce it, some states do."

Such laws usually work in a homeowners favor since most solar systems are designed to be installed in the location that provides the best production, meaning any move likely results in a drop in production or rise in installation cost.

Mendelsohn notes that solar access laws may not always guarantee the right to solar power. 

He says he's encountered HOAs that previously restricted solar installation in building codes and those clauses have been grandfathered in, even after solar access laws were passed by their states.

Solar access laws by state

As of 2023, 29 states and Washington, DC have passed some sort of solar access laws. A number of these laws still allow HOAs to place "reasonable restrictions" on solar installations. In many cases this could mean still requesting permission to install solar from your association.

These laws have different mechanisms for protecting residents' solar rights. The Indiana law does this by allowing residents to collect signatures from their neighbors in support of their solar panels and override the HOA's objections. A law in Illinois says HOAs can't ban solar installations but can adjust their placement as long as it doesn't reduce the expected production by 10% or more.

States with solar access laws

In 2023, 21 states still have no solar access laws prohibiting HOAs from outright banning solar installations, although efforts to change that are underway in a number of these places.

States without solar access laws

What is a solar easement? 

A solar easement is a legal protection for access to sunshine from your property. It's typically an agreement between neighbors to allow access that can then be enforced legally. It works in the same way easements can be placed that allow access to properties for vehicles, utilities and other uses. 

The idea is that neighbors agree to not block each other's access to the sun. So if one neighbor has a tree that blocks the sun from reaching another neighbor's solar panels, that tree would need to be trimmed. 

Such agreements can play into HOAs because they can affect the type of construction that can be done, in addition to the landscaping. If a solar easement is in place inside an HOA, it can impact where buildings or other features can be built in the community, so as to avoid blocking any resident's access to the sun. 

Many states have laws codifying residents' right to enter into solar easement agreements, even within an HOA.

How do I get permission to install solar panels from my HOA?

The most important thing is to know all the rules where you are. Get a copy of your HOA's most up to date rules and regulations to know its policies. If your state has a solar access law, understand how it works too.

"HOAs are a pain," Mendelsohn told me. "Sometimes HOAs are stubborn and the only way to fight them is with a legal letter, but then you live in the neighborhood and might not want to cause that tension with your neighbors." 

Of course, writing such a letter is going to depend on whether there is an actual law on the books to back you up. And that comes down to where you live and if local solar access legislation has been passed. 

If you live in one of the states that doesn't restrict an HOA's power regarding solar, there might be local ordinances in your county or municipality that provide similar rights. 

Chances are, no matter where you are, you're going to have to approach your HOA for some sort of permission or approval of your solar plans (which could add some time to the installation process). Best to do it armed with as much information as possible and a smile.

Article updated on September 30, 2023 at 5:00 AM PDT

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Eric Mack
Andrew Blok
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Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Expertise Solar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects, and CNET's "Living off the Grid" series Credentials
  • Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Andrew Blok Editor I
Andrew Blok has been an editor at CNET covering HVAC and home energy, with a focus on solar, since October 2021. As an environmental journalist, he navigates the changing energy landscape to help people make smart energy decisions. He's a graduate of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State and has written for several publications in the Great Lakes region, including Great Lakes Now and Environmental Health News, since 2019. You can find him in western Michigan watching birds.
Expertise Solar providers and portable solar power; coffee makers, grinders and products Credentials
  • Master's degree in environmental journalism
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