Solar Energy, HOAs, and HB 3516

Solar Energy, HOAs, and HB 3516 (Oregon Law)
July 22, 2012 | By: Tom Johnson; Jeffrey Coe

In 2012, new legislation went into effect in Oregon involving the installation of solar energy systems on residential and commercial buildings. House Bill 3516 (2011 Oregon Laws Ch. 464, codified at ORS 215.439 and ORS 227.505) was enacted with the purpose of facilitating the installation and use of solar energy systems. The new law makes solar energy an “outright permitted use” in residential zones. This has left many HOAs wondering: “How does this affect us?”

HB 3516 applies to zoning ordinances in counties and municipalities. It streamlines the permit approval process for homeowners that want to install photovoltaic or solar thermal systems that meet certain criteria. It does not apply directly to homeowners associations.

A request to install solar energy panels can be a tricky issue for an HOA; governing documents are often vague about solar installations and many HOAs are left to balance the responsibility of preserving the aesthetics of a community with supporting homeowners’ efforts to be eco-friendly. Where restrictions do exist in the governing documents, boards must do their best to fairly enforce them without violating other Oregon laws. For example, an outright ban on solar energy contained in an association’s declaration would probably violate ORS 105.880. This law, in effect since 1979, voids provisions in real property transfers that prohibit the use of solar energy systems. How the statute affects an association depends on the actual language in the governing documents.

With policy changes to encourage renewable energy, more homeowners are deciding to “go green.” Requests to install solar panels will likely increase in the future. Because no two communities are alike, a case-by-case analysis of the specific language in the governing documents is necessary to ensure the approval process is fair and complies with Oregon law.

HOAs need to be careful when dealing with requests for solar panel installations and should consult an attorney with any questions they may have.