A family in Raleigh, North Carolina, won a legal battle with their homeowners association, paving the way for many more households in North Carolina to install solar panels, the News & Observer reports.
In 2018, the Farwig family installed a set of $30,000 solar panels on their roof. They had checked their HOA’s rules first and found nothing specified about solar panels. However, five months later, the HOA instructed them to apply for the change after the fact — then denied the application.
HOAs are often an obstacle to those wanting to save money and make their homes more eco-friendly. Other homeowners have had to fight to install solar panels, and some have even changed state laws to allow for native wildflowers in their yard.
Just like these homeowners, the Farwigs faced aggressive resistance. Not only did the Belmont HOA try to force the Farwigs to remove the panels, but the News & Observer reports that it also tried to take away the home.
The association issued daily fines for having the panels and immediately used those fines to start the foreclosure process. To keep their home and their solar panels, the Farwigs were forced into a four-year-long lawsuit.
At the center of the dispute was a North Carolina state law from 2007 that determines when HOAs can deny solar panel installation. The News & Observer reports that local solar providers found the law “confusing,” and in a legal brief, said, “no doubt, these shortcomings have enabled North Carolina HOAs to deny countless solar applications.”
The state law says that HOAs can’t prohibit solar panels entirely but can prevent visible installations on the front of the home. However, for a house like the Farwigs’, the front is the only location that gets enough sun to power the panels.
In cases like this one, denying a visible solar setup effectively means the home can’t have solar power at all, but the 2007 law didn’t clarify what would happen in that event.
Thanks to the Farwigs, though, the N.C. Supreme Court has now established its interpretation of the law. The justices decided that the HOA’s rule “does have the effect of prohibiting the installation of solar panels and the reasonable use of solar panels,” and is against the existing law.
This ruling sets a legal precedent that other homeowners can use to defend themselves — making it easier than ever to get solar panels in North Carolina.
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