Proposed Solar Bill in South Carolina May Affect Homeowners Associations

David Wilson

As the weather begins to warm and the sun shows its face a little longer each day, many homeowners start to consider the option of installing solar panels on their property to take advantage of those rays. With legislative changes in the past few years, South Carolina has become a more welcoming state for solar companies. As a result, many homeowners associations (both single family communities and townhomes) have started seeing more and more applications from homeowners to install some type of solar panel technology on their property. Up to now there has not been any sort of state law that controls the ability of homeowners associations to limit the installation of solar panels on their members’ property. 

For the most part this has worked well since the board of directors is generally elected by the members and then an architectural committee is usually appointed by the board. The result is that each community is able to determine for itself whether solar panels are permitted, and what additional requirements—if any—may apply to any installation. Many communities, for example, choose to allow solar panels as long as they are not located on the front roof of the home. Others don’t care where panels are located as long as they are laid out in a tasteful geometric shape and wires and other components aren’t showing.  Others have said that no solar panels will be permitted at all (and often there is already language in their covenants requiring that result—so unless the covenants are amended the board can’t approve solar panels even if it wanted to do so). 

A bill introduced this past week in the SC Legislature (H3979) may impact how homeowners and their community association handle the review and approval of solar panels and similar solar collectors.  As it is currently written, this bill would make void any covenant that prohibits the installation and utilization of a “solar energy system.”  In other words, even if the covenants prohibit solar panels, a homeowner may be able to install them with association approval.  It is not immediately clear whether a solar energy system includes any item that is solar powered (such as a garden path light), or if it is aimed only at things like solar panels. 

H3979 also allows for a homeowners association to still require “reasonable design accommodations” to make sure that any installed system is done consistent with community aesthetic requirements. Again, it is not clear at this point how broad or narrow an association’s input into future solar installations will be, but it appears that it will still allow homeowners associations to have some control over procedure and placement of solar panels on a property.

The bill in its current form leaves a lot to the imagination and could contain more specific language to clarify potential problems. For example, who is responsible to maintain, repair, and replace the solar energy system in a townhome community where the HOA generally is responsible for exterior maintenance?  If the roof must be replaced or repaired and the solar panels must be removed, who is responsible for those costs? How restrictive can any aesthetic requirements be? If enacted, will the new law be retroactive?

We will continue to monitor this bill and provide updates as any developments occur.

Our community association attorneys have experience with these and other community issues that are likely facing your homeowners association or condominium. Feel free to contact us at any of our Charlotte, Greensboro, Triad, or Coastal offices.

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