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Posted at 5:25 PM ET, 04/ 9/2010

Va. man fights to keep solar panel

By Washington Post editors

A Springfield man is fighting his local homeowner's association because it is demanding that he remove a solar panel he had installed on his roof, NBC 4 reports.

The man said he installed the panel last Thanksgiving to help heat an 80-gallon water heater, but because a part of it is visible from the street, the homeowner's association says he's in violation of the rules.

By Washington Post editors  | April 9, 2010; 5:25 PM ET
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Pesky, nosy neighbors need to mind their own business. With foreclosures so rampant, they should be happy that the house is occupied.

Posted by: rlmcca | April 10, 2010 2:54 AM | Report abuse

The only thing that looks bad here is the home owners association, and the neighbors who want the panel taken down. Those people look like complete fools to anyone observing this argument.

Posted by: Nymous | April 10, 2010 2:59 AM | Report abuse

You gotta love the liberal's thought processes. And how do I know the guy's neighbors are leftist fungus clumps? Because conservatives actually care about the environment rather than merely pay lip service to it.

Posted by: crisp11 | April 10, 2010 7:25 AM | Report abuse

And so it is with Homeownres Associations country-wide. Reason departs with association board membership.

Posted by: Geezer4 | April 10, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

This is not a liberal or conservatie issue. Homeowners associations are run by equal opportunity jerks and control freaks who don't like anybody. One day telling a 90-year-old WWII veteran his flag pole is too big and can't be flown in his yard, the next day freaking out about a guy who's actually doing something substantive to use less fossil fuel.

Posted by: spamcatchall | April 10, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Clearly this looks like a case of a homeowners association not revising rules to keep up to date with modern trends and technologies but I know I appreciate that my local HOA does not allow my neighbors to allow their house to fall into disrepair or put in a gaudy installation in their front yard.

That said, an HOA needs to be very careful to not base decisions on their own personal preferences but instead focus on actions that maintain and/or increase the objective visual appeal and market value of the homes in the neighborhood as a whole.

Posted by: CliftonJohn | April 10, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

The guys has to fight hard in the courts and he will win. Just as the FCC made a ruling to prevent HOAs and landlords from prohibiting satellite dishes (deeming them essential to the communication infrastructure), we need similar juice behind alternative energy technologies. This is a no-brainer.

Spamchatcall nailed it: "Homeowners associations are run by equal opportunity jerks and control freaks who don't like anybody."

Posted by: kemp13 | April 10, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

why do people move into HOA's when they don't want to follow the rules?

Posted by: newagent99 | April 10, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Hate our HOA. They just wrote us up because we didn't file a plan to erect a shed on our property. A shed that is 20 years old (we moved in 9 years ago).

Posted by: Marimom | April 10, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

You gotta love the liberal's thought processes. And how do I know the guy's neighbors are leftist fungus clumps? Because conservatives actually care about the environment rather than merely pay lip service to it.

Posted by: crisp11 | April 10, 2010 7:25 AM


BULL! What have you been smoking?

The right wing is consistently represented by the Republican party, which has an atrocious record on environmental matters. I am not saying that all Republicans are anti-environment; it is not fair to speak in absolute terms. I am saying that, on the whole, the Republican party has a great deal of room for improvement when it comes to pro-environment legislation.

Posted by: scubanut | April 10, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Real estate agents don't often disclose that a HOA is in place until the closing - and the specific rules of the HOA are not disclosed ahead of time either.

HOAs need to be regulated more strictly. Disclosures need to be required before purchase. Vague claims of "lowering property values" have to be based on actual evidence. I never heard that a solar panel actually lowered the assessed value or purchase price of a home. Environmental factors have to be given due consideration (such as permitting solar panels, rain barrels or clotheslines).

Above all, HOAs should sunset, by law, a set number of years after the development is completed. There is no reason that people in one neighborhood should have to live by a different set of rules than people in another. The city's zoning laws should apply equally to everyone and that is all anyone should need.

We've all seen too many abuses where an association officer, often acting on his own, harasses a homeowner over a political sign, holiday display (one a few years ago objected to one that said "Peace On Earth") or garden plantings. They are breeding grounds for destructive neighborhood feuds. Their powers need to be limited.

Posted by: member8 | April 10, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Not only are there no studies showing that the value of a home is diminished by solar panels (and this one is small, only to heat water), but also there are studies in California that show solar panels increase the value of homes, because they both lower utility bills and provide income from SRECs. In an evidentiary hearing, the HOA should lose, for failing to prove its contention of diminished value. As usual, the East Coast is 5-10 years behind the West Coast on this issue. Realtors are blameworthy for failing to do and publicize studies on this.

There should be state and federal laws barring HOAs and condo associations from prohibiting or minimizing solar panels for hot water or electricity production, as a matter of state and national policy.

Organizations like 1BOG (for One Block Off the Grid) can help, but they need east-coast replication to get some traction.

Posted by: jv26 | April 10, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I liked the HOA that banned any "solar drying apparatus" after their rule forbidding "clothes lines" was held a court to be too vague and sticken from the Bylaws.

I say "If we outlaw Bylaws, then only outlaws will have Bylaws."

Posted by: RogerRamjet2 | April 10, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

And here I was complaining I had to remove a flower box.

Let the guy have the solar panel. We should all look for opportunities to reduce our energy costs & demands. Every HOA should at least consider solar panels, wind turbines, rain barrels, etc.

Posted by: sarahabc | April 10, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Why doesn't he just move it down a bit on the roof so that it's no longer visible from the street? He's got to have known that it never would have been approved had it been known that it would be visible from the street. It sounds like the installers messed up and now he wants his neigbhors to pay the price for his not having made sure the installers installed it a manner that wasn't visible. He's also got to know he's going to lose this in court. And his demonizing an HOA board, which is just doing its job is just going to create unjustified badwill all around. Sometimes you just need to accept responsibility for your mistakes ... or those of your installers. It's called being a grown-up.

Posted by: JohnSmith7 | April 10, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Member8, actually, in virginia you have three days after you receive the resale package (before closing) to cancel the contract for any reason. By law, the community must provide it within 14 days of the request. You don't have to justify it, you take a look at the rules and you don't like them, you can cancel.

Of course, if your realtor or the selling realtor doesn't request it, the community might not know it needs to be delivered. Also, a lot of people don't bother to read details of contracts and documents like this but you do have the right to know what you are getting yourself into and the opportunity to cancel if you wish so you are deemed to have agreed with the rules if you move in.

For the record, I don't agree with penalizing people for violations of previous owners, if notice of those violations were not included in the resale package.

Posted by: CliftonJohn | April 10, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

It's a matter of jealousy on the part of the HOA. The Nazi members can't afford their own solar panels.

I have a neighbor who installed a solar water heating system himself. If I look out my back windows, I can see the panels but they don't bother me. Of course, we live in a real community not one run by a HOA.

Posted by: mortified469 | April 10, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Because conservatives actually care about the environment rather than merely pay lip service to it.

Posted by: crisp11
Who led took the lead for all of the major environmental legislation in the last 30 years? Who fought most of it?

Save your BS for the tea-baggers stupid enough to buy it.

Posted by: st50taw | April 10, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

If you don't want to live by a neighborhood's homeowner covenants, don't move there. They are there to protect *everyone's* property values. Once you let one convenant go unenforced, you quickly lose your legal leverage to address future violations.

I'm willing to bet that any significant alteration to the exterior, particularly one visible from the street, required prior approval anyway. Obviously this guy doesn't care about his legal OR neighborly obligations.

This guy got what he deserved. He will lose.

Posted by: st50taw | April 10, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Nothing wrong with this. Solar panels are not suitable for a home that is part of a homeowners' association. These panels are ugly and not necessary. Remove it. Thank you.

Posted by: lingering_lead | April 10, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

There always seems to be a subset of people who seem to think the rules just don't apply to them. I've noticed that at work where employees come to work late and then park in the visitors' spaces. They need an attitude adjustment.

Posted by: brewstercounty | April 10, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Crisp11 wrote, "And how do I know the guy's neighbors are leftist fungus clumps? Because conservatives actually care about the environment rather than merely pay lip service to it."

"EARTH TO CRISP, EARTH TO CRISP." Focus on the issue, not your political itch.

Posted by: Towards_Light | April 10, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Bet there is a politician wannabe on a power trip or a lawyer on that HOA. Both lack common sense.

Posted by: dgray | April 10, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

What's ugly about a solar panel? I think they look great. There are a lot of things around houses that are not inherently attractive. Asphalt driveways, for example, and garage doors. But we have trained our eyes to ignore them, and when more people have solar panels nobody will even notice them anymore.

Posted by: los22 | April 10, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

I live in a community that neighbors the community in question. I've seen the solar panel from street level. Yes, you can see it. Yes, it's not the prettiest thing you'll ever lay your eyes on. But yes, the HOA is being idiotic about picking a fight over this. There's simply no way any intelligent argument can be made that the panel either lowers property values, materially changes the nature of the community, or causes injury or other hardship to residents.

I live in a community that has a HOA. I can appreciate its purpose and its potential to be a positive ingredient in the community. But HOAs can get out of control and major in minors every bit as much as any individual owner or resident in any community. At some point, in order for a healthy relationship to exist between the HOA and its rights, and owners/residents and their rights, people have to be acting in good faith and have to know which issues are really worth fighting about. The solar panel issue ain't it; not even close.

Posted by: mbcnewspaper | April 12, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

I guess some negative commentators seem to not know how an HOA works...or at least do not know what steps I had to take to get mine approved. I first had to go around the neighborhood and ask my neighbors to either accept my proposal or not. Then I had to write the HOA sponsor to forward a letter to the covenants committee to see if they like my proposal and to see if I dotted all the i's and crossed the t's in the application form which I had to fill out as well. They had the sponsor call me to state I needed a plat to be given to them and drawings of the design and all of the plans. I did this. They called me back and said they wanted photos of what it would look like... I provided those. Then I was told about the meeting time. Again as I state in my previous comment... I brought my contractor with me to answer any of their questions.

The bottom line is that they approved of it regardless what some of you feel about solar... and regardless what the HOA feels about it now. They approved it and now are reneging on it. And trying to bully me to move it or remove it.

I can not move it because that would make it not function. Again it is already inefficient being on the back (north side of the house). And to ask me to do so in unreasonable according to VA law.

I think some of you think this is strictly an environmental this is a law issue. The HOA is doing an injustice. This is why I am calling for help to stop this from not only happening to me but to others in the future. Remember the HOA approved it then reneged on it.

Also the HOA rules should not be given a superior legal position over acts of energy or environmental conservation; otherwise people living in HOAs are forced to consume energy in excess of what, otherwise, would be their needs.

Posted by: ghite | April 13, 2010 12:17 AM | Report abuse

I want elaborate more on what I did to get my solar water heater approved since some of the negative commentators seem to be more about spreading hate then love ;)

I spent a year without hot water because my hot water heater broke down and I wanted to replace the old unit with a solar water heater. I made the moral decision to install a solar water heater because I care for all life and didn't want to further the pollution to our communities.

Yes I care for all life...that includes those who are opposing me right now.

I don't think the moral argument will go very far in my case, though. The law is rarely concerned with morality. But I would love to ask the HOA: Is the HOA willing to pay for the medical bills of all the people harmed by the pollution caused by the fossil fuel products they deem acceptable? Or will the HOA somehow bring back people from the dead who died from the pollution from those products they are forcing people to use for their houses?

Anyway I spent that year trying to gather info, get contractors, and set up times to meet with my HOA. I knew well before I met with them that they would have concerns. So even though it is inefficient to put a solar water heater on the north side (back of my home) I met with contractors to see if they would do so. I only found one willing to do this. All of them said it would be inefficient to place the unit on the north side. I knew this but wanted to satisfy the HOA concerns. So I went through the HOA process of House alterations. You can read in my previous comment the steps I took with the HOA.

Posted by: ghite | April 13, 2010 12:27 AM | Report abuse

It appears to me that the conflict lies in my assertion that I would do my best to minimize the visibility of the device, while the HOA intended that there would be absolutely no visibility of the device under any circumstances. To that extent, it appears that the HOA took something else out of the initial proposal meeting that wasn't documented or stated. I have documentation that I presented to them stating minimizing the visibility and they signed off on this and sent an approval letter for the installation. What they perceived or took out of the meeting is something that is not documented nor stated in that meeting.

The approval letter doesn't stipulate anywhere in the document that the device must not be seen at all.

I find it comical that in their letter of demands they stated and I quote "In conclusion, both you and your contractor knew full well when you left the Novermber 9, 2009 meeting with the CC that approval by the CC was being given only with the understanding and assurances that the solar unit would not be visible from the front of your unit."

All I knew full well was that they approved of our detailed hard copy plan went provided to them and they signed off on...and attached to the approval letter. And in that detail plan we stated we would make it as inconspicuously as possible.

Posted by: ghite | April 13, 2010 12:42 AM | Report abuse

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