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Are there Legal Restrictions on the Use of Solar Energy?

The use of solar energy is becoming more and more common in the United States. Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy said that solar energy is more affordable and available than it has been in the past.

However, if you desire to install solar panels on your property you will be subject to certain rules and regulations. These requirements may vary between the states and even your Homeowner’s Association.

Generally, the sunlight you will need to fuel the panels will need to pass through the airspace of your neighbors because the United States does not receive sunlight from directly overhead. As such, if you install solar devices, then your neighbors will be restricted in the way they can use their land.

How Can I Obtain Access to Solar Energy?

In order to legally obtain and maintain access to solar energy, you will have to enter into some type of agreement that grants you access to your neighbor’s airspace. Some things you can do to achieve this are:

  • Entering into an easement: An easement is a written agreement between that would give you limited use over part of your neighbor’s property. In this case, that would be the area needed to obtain access to solar energy sources.
    • By entering into a written agreement with neighbors, you can keep your neighbor from doing anything that would block your access to solar energy. The following information will likely need to be included in the easement agreement:
      • Horizontal and vertical dimension descriptions;
      • Time restrictions;
      • Transferability of the easement to a person who purchases the land;
      • Enforcement of the easement;
      • How to handle a dispute; and
      • Remedies if the easement agreement is violated.
  • Entering into a covenant: You may also be able to enter into a covenant with your neighbor in order to gain access to solar energy sources. This is also a type of agreement that would limit the use of your neighbor’s property by providing the benefit of solar energy sources to your property.
    • A common concern addressed through covenants are aesthetics of the property. This may result in restriction on what type of solar devices can be constructed.
  • Permit: Some states have also established procedures for private landowners who intend to install solar power to obtain a permit in order to do so. Obtaining a permit would protect you from facing interference with solar access.
    • This is often a simpler process than creating an easement or covenant. Check the rules and regulations in your area to determine if applying for a permit is an option.

However, out of all of these options, solar easements are increasingly popular and the most common way to start the process to install solar panels.

How to Get Solar Panels If You are Part of a Homeowners Association

If you are part of an Homeowners Association (HOA) then you might run into some roadblocks when trying to install solar panels. Many HOA’s will require that you submit paperwork that explains what you will be doing and how long the process will take.

However, due to growing popularity of solar power and legislation, like the Solar Rights Act, many HOA’s are not allowed to ban solar panels if you live in a state that has enacted a solar access law.

Do I Need to Contact an Attorney?

A local real estate attorney can advise you of the laws and regulations in your area that restrict or encourage access to solar energy.  An attorney can also help you draft an agreement (such as an easement or covenant) with your neighbor that provides you access to the solar energy sources that you need.

In addition, an attorney can help you if a dispute arises about your use of solar energy. If a neighbor complains of glare being created from solar panels on your property, they may be able to sue you for damages. If this occurs you should contact an attorney to assist you in court.

Photo of page author Ashley Folk

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 08-16-2018 12:25 AM PDT

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