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Exploring how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

N.C. Supreme Court limits ability of HOAs to prohibit solar panels

Rebates would help pay for solar panels on a rooftop
Elliot Brown
The N.C. Supreme Court has made it easier to put solar panels on homes with a homeowners association.

A North Carolina Supreme Court ruling last week makes it easier for property owners who belong to homeowners associations to install rooftop solar panels.

The court issued the ruling Friday, June 16, in a lawsuit filed by Raleigh homeowners against their HOA, the Belmont Association.

The homeowners had faced $50 a day fines, liens and other legal action after installing solar panels on the front roof of their home in 2018.

The HOA's architectural review committee had ordered the homeowners, Thomas and Nancy Farwig and Nancy Mainard, to remove the panels. The committee said the $32,000 project needed its approval.

But in a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court said the panels should be allowed. Since neighborhood covenants did not explicitly prohibit solar panels, the court ruled that a review committee cannot enforce a ban.

"What that essentially does is opens up the market to rooftop solar for a lot more homeowners in North Carolina that do not have an HOA that has a ban on the books," said Matt Abele of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association.

The sustainable energy association and Attorney General Josh Stein had filed briefs in support of the homeowners. Stein said on Twitter Friday: "The NC Supreme Court today ruled in favor of homeowners' rights to install solar panels on their homes. NCDOJ filed an amicus brief supporting the homeowners. North Carolinians must be able to use clean energy alternatives to power their lives and protect our environment."

The state's2007 solar access law prevents HOAs from banning solar panels, though it allows rules that restrict their placement.

The NC Sustainable Energy Association was represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center. Lawyer Lauren Bowen, who leads SELC's Solar Initiative, said in a statement: “For too long, North Carolina homeowners lived with uncertainty about whether our solar access law would protect their right to go solar if opinions on their respective HOA boards or committees swung against it," she said. “The North Carolina Supreme Court has now affirmed the right to go solar under the law and homeowners can now be confident their decisions to go solar will not be denied arbitrarily.”

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.