Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Residents and Trustees Fight Over Solar Panels

A family chose to install solar panels without the approval of association trustees. The decision to cover the roof of the house they bought with solar panels had come to this: a last-ditch effort to win a variance from trustees at their annual meeting held Tuesday.

Already, the fight between the homeowners and their neighborhood association in this south St. Louis County suburb has been simmering for months. Trustees say the family can mount the panels in the back of the house, but the owner days that will only expose them to two or three hours of sunlight a day.

The Oakville fight is one of several playing out in several regional court cases pitting homeowners against their property associations, exposing nasty rifts among neighbors over a technology expected to become more common in years to come.

At least 12 homeowners association disputes have scuttled a property owner’s plans for solar panels or wound up in court, according to solar advocate Frances Babb.

Babb faced her own fight with the city of Clarkson Valley, in west St. Louis County, after she installed solar panels two years ago. But after winning that round last year, she was sued by her neighborhood association.

Homeowners associations say it’s a simple matter of following the property indenture rules residents buy into. Babb’s association, the Kehrs Mill Estates Resident Association, is seeking damages even though at this point they may not be able to force her to remove the panels.

But unlike fence height and paint color, the national interest in renewable energy has gathered enough momentum to prompt state laws that overrule homeowners associations’ aesthetic sensibilities.

In Missouri, bills have been filed for the last several years to give homeowners the right to install solar panels. Several states have already enacted similar laws. In Illinois, state law has required homeowners associations to approve solar panel installations since 2011.

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