Lots of families live in townhouses or condominium developments. These can be very comfortable, and depending on your community the management may take care of much of the upkeep and maintenance. But you might also be interested in setting up a solar electrical power system.
You can probably put solar panels on a townhouse, but you will need to check with local authorities to be sure, and you might need to do some persuading. There isn’t likely to be any structural problem, but you should know your rights if the Home Owner’s Association objects.
This article will talk about the rules that govern condominiums and townhouse developments, then explain how those rules affect your decision to install solar panels. Some states give a homeowner the right to install solar panels, while others leave your Home Owners Association (HOA) with the final say. I’ll also tell you about how to work with the HOA to get your solar plans approved.
Solar Panels on Any Roof
If there is going to be a problem with installing solar panels on a townhouse, it’s not likely to have anything to do with the structure. Solar contractors have devised solutions for any common type of roof, from flat roofs to metal to asphalt shingles to slate.
The roof on a townhouse is likely to be a bit smaller than on a detached home, which might limit the number of panels you can install and the amount of electricity you can generate. You might also find it more difficult to deal with trees and other objects that create shade. But if your home gets sufficient sunlight the actual installation should not be very complicated.
What It Means to Own a Townhouse
The complication with Townhouses and Condominiums comes from the unique arrangements that make these communities work.
In a standard rental, you don’t own your home. You pay your landlord to live there, but you aren’t allowed to change the structure beyond hanging pictures and maybe painting the walls a different color.
If you buy your home, the building is yours. You can remove walls, add new rooms, even tear the existing house down and rebuild it. Unless there are rules set in your land title the only limits are those set out in the local building codes.
The legal status of a townhouse or a condominium is usually somewhere in between. You own your unit and have more freedom to alter things, but usually townhouses share a foundation and some common structures — load-bearing walls and roofs in particular.
It’s not practical to allow townhouse owners to tear down their units or make drastic changes. As a townhouse owner, you might be able to install a doorway or erect a wall. You might even be able to tear out a wall as long as it’s not load-bearing, but changes that might affect other owners’ homes can cause problems.
That can include changes to the external appearance of your townhouse, and it definitely includes changes to the roof.
Your Home Owners Association and You
The Home Owners Association plays a critical role in making your townhouse liveable. They collect fees from all the townhouse owners, and in return they are in charge of maintaining all the common structures. They also provide amenities like upkeep of the area. Finally, the HOA enforces the community rules. That means they can veto any construction projects that might affect the neighbors.
Solar Panels fall into a bit of a grey area. A well-done solar panel installation should not weaken the structure, but the panels can change the overall appearance of the building. That’s something that your neighbors might object to.
The Good News: Solar Rights Laws
Depending on where you live, state or local law might give you a helping hand dealing with the HOA. “Solar Rights” laws establish that a homeowners association cannot object to you installing solar panels, or the law might place some limits. (For instance, the HOA can object if they think the installation will damage the structure, but cannot block you for purely aesthetic reasons.)
There are 25 states that have passed Solar Rights laws and numerous local ordinances with similar provisions. If you think your HOA might object, you may want to ask an attorney to look into state and local laws.
Winning Over Your Neighbors
Even if you do have a state or local solar rights law, your HOA may still have some restrictions on how and where you install the panels, so you’ll want to plan ahead and maintain good relations with HOA Board anyway. If you don’t have a solar rights law, getting the HOA’s approval is absolutely essential. So you should consider the following steps if you want to install solar panels on your townhouse.
- Know your rights. The more information you have at the beginning, the easier it will be to work through the process. Don’t just find out if there’s a Solar Rights law, but learn what’s in it: what objections the HOA can raise, and what the remedies are if you and the HOA reach an impasse.
- Know your HOA. Look over the HOA’s bylaws and the rules that govern your community. Find out what modifications it has allowed homeowners to make in the past. If they have allowed other homeowners to install solar panels, or alter their roofs, that knowledge can be very useful.
- Know your property. If you do install solar panels, they will need to be put on the roof covering your unit. You cannot put solar panels on common buildings, and you need to be ready to show that your solar panels won’t damage other people’s homes.
- Know Your Neighbors. Are any other people in the community interested in solar power? If they are, consider making your case together. The more people you have making the request, the harder it will be for the HOA’s leadership to dismiss you as a crank.
- Know your HOA’s Leaders. Sit in on a couple of HOA Board meetings, find out who holds what office, and who the most influential people are. You might be able to talk informally with the officers of the HOA and find out if any of them are interested in solar power. If there is, you might be able to persuade them to adopt pro-solar rules on their own. It’s always good to have friends on the inside!
These are all things you should look into before taking any overt action: feel things out discretely before taking any formal steps, certainly before you call in a contractor.
Remember, your Homeowners Association has an important job to do: they want to be sure your solar installation doesn’t hurt the community. Don’t be defensive if they ask questions or raise objections. Solar power is an excellent deal for the whole community. It saves money on electrical bills and can boost the value of your home. And it’s great for the environment.
Be positive and win them over. If you take time to know the players and the rules, you’ll be able to navigate the HOA, and when it’s time to present your solar plans, you can do it in a way that is reassuring to any doubters.
If there are any problems with putting solar panels on your townhouse, they are more likely to be political than technical. The Homeowner’s Association in your community may object. If they do, state law might give you an advantage, but you should still deal with the HOA respectfully. If you are smart and tactful, you should be able to persuade them and move on with solar power.