Like the author of "A homeowner's right to go solar" (Opinion Exchange, March 14), I am concerned about our climate, and I support solar panels.
That said, however, it is not as simple as having a law that forces homeowner associations to allow solar panels. I have asked our legislators to not be too quick to enact such a law because of the many different circumstances that affect how HOAs have to operate.
As the previous writer says, there are thousands of HOAs in Minnesota. Each one has its own governing documents, but that may be where the similarities end.
Not all have flat roofs. Not all are high-rise condo-type buildings. Not all have the same building structures, which have a lot to do with the decisions an HOA board makes regarding solar panels.
For example, I'm in a 44-unit HOA in Woodbury, which has a mix of attached twin homes, detached twin homes, four-unit attached townhouses and six-unit attached townhouses. The way our particular HOA works is that all 44 of us pay for the maintenance, repair and replacement of all siding and roofs on every structure. At least two-thirds of the owners have to agree to changes that affect their HOA costs — whether through increases in the annual assessment or a special assessment.
Decisions made about solar panels may or may not affect owner costs, but the HOA board has to determine that before saying "yes."
We currently have a "no solar panels" regulation. It's not because we are against solar energy. Quite the opposite. Our current regulation exists only to give the board time to work through the mechanics of maintenance and repair, and then to present the decision to the owners for approval.
For example, if I get an OK to install solar panels on the roof of my attached townhouse, I am responsible for paying to have that installed. However, I cannot change the physical structure of the townhouse without first getting board approval. The initial decision might sound like a yes/no vote, but it is not. As part of the decisionmaking process, the board has to consider at least four issues:
- Who will actually own the panels — the owner who has them installed or the HOA?
- If the roof needs to be replaced, who pays to have the panels removed and reinstalled?
- What, if any, impact might solar panels have the on the HOA's insurance?
- What effect might solar panels have in the winter, especially regarding ice dams?
- What if the owner who installs the panels decides to sell and the buyer doesn't want solar panels — who pays to have them removed?
Before allowing the first installation, the board and members must come up with answers to these questions. Reversing a bad decision could be costly and messy. A "yes" decision has to be well-thought-out and right for the HOA, not just dictated by a law.
Rebecca Fuller, of Woodbury, is an HOA board president.