Utah homeowner associations may be forced to allow solar panels

First Published      Last Updated Feb 21 2017 11:39 am

Lawmakers on Friday advanced a controversial bill to require, in most circumstances, homeowner associations (HOAs) to allow solar panels.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously to endorse SB154, and sent it to the full Senate for consideration.

Its sponsor, Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, said the bill is a significant compromise from previous efforts, and gives HOAs more power to potentially ban solar panels.

He said if an HOA already bans or restricts solar panels, those covenants would be grandfathered into law. However, if they are silent on solar, then they must allow them.

They may still impose restrictions — such as on colors, size and view of them from the street — as long as they do not hurt the efficiency of the panels by 5 percent or increase their costs unreasonably.

However, if 67 percent of residents in an HOA vote to remove existing solar panel bans — or to add them — that also would be allowed.

"We've landed on the right policy," Fillmore said. "This is both a property rights bill and a clean air bill," to promote clean solar energy.

But it still has significant opposition. A full-to-capacity committee hearing on the matter was about evenly split between supporters and opponents of the bill.

Michael Johnson, with FCS Community Management, a service company for HOAs, complained the bill would "remove the power of HOAs to govern themselves," and some solar may not fit in with the architectural guidelines of existing communities.

Others complained they may lower property values.

On the other hand, Steve Israelsen, a North Salt Lake resident, said his HOA does not expressly ban solar panels, but still has refused to give him permission to install them. He said lawyers said he could win a court case, but he was trying to install solar to save money and not spend it in court.

Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said he had trouble with previous attempts to allow solar panels, but said the current one seems to protect rights of both HOAs and homeowners.