Throwing Shade—North Carolina / South Carolina Homeowner Right to Sunlight

David Wilson
David Wilson

Once upon a time there was a homeowner with a mountain cottage with a great view.  The homeowner lived for years on this quiet property with a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains.  Suddenly, a neighbor showed up and began building next door.  As part of construction, it became obvious that part of the new neighbor’s home would block the view of the first homeowner.  Although the first homeowner may not be happy about it, without some sort of guarantee that his view will remain unchanged, the first homeowner probably has no way to prevent the construction. 

To avoid this type of situation, the first homeowner may enter into an agreement with all surrounding owners to grant him an easement for unobstructed views.  Without this type of agreement the homeowner is “up” the proverbial creek “without a paddle.”

In the same way that owners of property in North Carolina and South Carolina generally don’t have a right to unobstructed views, they likewise don’t have a general right to sunlight. 

There has been much discussion lately about solar panels in homeowners associations and condominiums in North Carolina and South Carolina and we’ve seen all sorts of questions about what is allowed and what is not allowed.  One question I’ve seen goes something like this:

“I got approval for my solar panels to be installed.  Doesn’t the homeowners association have to let me cut down trees so that I can get sunlight?”

Although solar laws in North Carolina do grant some rights to homeowners to install solar panels, there is no corresponding right or easement for sunlight.  South Carolina does not currently have a solar law for homeowners associations, but there is also no right or easement for sunlight in South Carolina either. 

Sometimes a homeowner may mistakenly assume that just because a homeowners association has approved placement of solar panels on their property it is also required to allow them to cut down trees on their property to provide enough sunlight to power them.  In other words, even if a homeowners association may approve the placement of solar panels on a roof, there is no obligation to also approve cutting of trees or other work in order to have access to the sunlight needed to power them.

Similarly, no neighboring property owner can be required to provide sunlight by cutting down trees or avoiding blocking sunlight without some sort of agreement in place.  Many states have laws that describe what an easement for sunlight must include.  As an example, solar easement laws often require that any easement obtained for the purpose of ensuring the exposure of a solar energy device must be created in writing and executed with the same formalities as other recorded instruments.  These types of easements must generally be particular in describing the airspace affected by the easement and any terms and conditions under which the easement is granted or will be terminated.

If you have questions about the law in North Carolina or South Carolina about your right to sunlight, solar panels, or other similar issues, contact a Law Firm Carolinas attorney at one of our offices.

HOA & Condo Associations Real Estate