Given Florida’s nickname as the Sunshine State, it is only fitting that solar energy would be the state’s most popular and effective source of renewable energy. In fact, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewable energy fueled approximately five percent of Florida’s in-state electricity generation in 2020, and almost two-thirds of that came from solar.
It appears to be a sure bet that rooftop solar installations will be growing in popularity in the years to come for homeowners across the state. For those who own properties in communities with homeowners associations, internet searches will quickly reveal that Florida associations are prohibited by law from blanket denials of such installations. However, that does not mean that they do not have a significant say in the manner and form of solar panel installations in order to maintain the community’s aesthetic standards.
The Florida Solar Rights Act protects homeowners who wish to install solar panels and other renewable energy devices on their property from outright bans. It provides that property owners may not be denied permission to install solar collectors and other renewable energy devices by HOAs or even local municipalities. The law expressly forbids binding agreements that limit access to renewable energy for dwellings.
However, the Act does allow for HOA architectural review boards and committees to determine the specific rooftop location where panels can be installed. Associations are therefore able to require homeowners to follow their set procedures for the prior review and approval of planned alterations and improvements. Review committees may request diagrams and information on the dimensions, location(s), and layout of proposed solar panels, including illustrations. They can also review and approve all the related wiring and electrical components, as well as the proposed height of the panels from the roof.
The Act provides that as long as a solar panel installation is “within an orientation to the south or within 45° east or west of due south if such determination does not impair the effective operation of the solar collectors,” associations can decide where the panels will go.
This caveat in the law limiting associations’ ability to dictate the exact location of rooftop panels is very important for board and committee members to bear in mind. Their chosen location must not interfere with the system’s performance, so attempts to require that solar panels be installed at a spot where they are shaded by trees would be in violation of the Act.
Given the detailed and specific nature of this Florida law, the state’s courts have already issued several rulings protecting homeowners’ rights to lawful renewable-energy installations, and they are unlikely to look favorably upon HOAs that attempt to issue unreasonable restrictions and decisions over proposed rooftop panels. The stipulations in this law are not to be ignored by HOAs and their boards of directors, and questions regarding solar installations by homeowners should be addressed with the upmost caution and only under the guidance of highly qualified and experienced community association legal counsel.
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