Solar Freedom Bill Passes, 95-4

It’s been a long time coming.  Six years, to be exact.

That’s when I noticed the law, VA Code 67-701, which ostensibly enabled (but actually forbade) the use of solar panels in planned communities.

In keeping with the theme of today’s earlier post, 67-701 was simply the worst-written law since Moses descended Mt. Sinai.  If you can stomach it, here is the original text.

§ 67-701. Covenants regarding solar power.

A. Effective July 1, 2008, no community association shall prohibit an owner from installing or using a solar energy collection device on that owner’s property. However a community association may establish reasonable restrictions concerning the size, place, and manner of placement of such solar energy collection devices on property designated and intended for individual ownership and use. Any resale certificate pursuant to § 55-79.97 and any disclosure packet pursuant to § 55-509.5, as applicable, given to a purchaser shall contain a statement setting forth any restriction, limitation, or prohibition on the right of an owner to install or use solar energy collection devices on his property.

B. The community association may prohibit or restrict the installation of solar energy collection devices on the common elements or common area within the real estate development served by the community association. A community association may establish reasonable restrictions as to the size, place, and manner of placement or installation of any solar energy collection device installed on the common elements or common area.

C. This section shall not apply with respect to any provision of a restrictive covenant that restricts the installation or use of any solar collection device if such provision became effective prior to July 1, 2008.  Nothing in this section shall be construed to (i) invalidate any provision of a restrictive covenant that prohibits or restricts the installation or use of any solar collection device if such provision was in effect before July 1, 2008, or (ii) prohibit the amendment of a restrictive covenant to prohibit or restrict the installation or use of any solar collection device, or to remove prohibitions or restrictions on the installation or use of any solar collection device if such amendment is adopted by the membership of the community association in accordance with such association’s governing documents.

No, I don’t know what that means either, especially subpart C.  Nor did I understand how an HOA bylaw before “July 1, 2008″ is legal — but one made afterwards is illegal.  (Who even keeps track of that?)  What I do know is that the solar industry was being de facto barred from planned communities, due to this poorly-written law.

For years, I attempted to change this law.  In 2012, I actually carried a bill, SB 627, through both houses, which repealed subpart C, as well as the “July 1, 2008″ divider, and clarified that an HOA could not ban a homeowner from installing solar panels.  However, that bill was vetoed by our last Governor and I didn’t have the votes to override in 2012.  So I was back to square one.

This year, I got lucky.  The community association lobbyists — led by the highly skilled Pia Trigiani — had bigger fish to fry.  (See any of my posts relating to HB 759).

Soon after I filed SB 222, we reached a compromise on the bill.  The amended legislation would permit all HOA and condo owners the freedom to install solar panels, subject to reasonable aesthetic standards, UNLESS the solar prohibition was in the Deed of Declaration creating the association.  The “2008″ bifurcation was washed away.

That was both a reasonable compromise and consistent with my rhetoric on holding HOA’s true to their founding documents, i.e. their declarations.   Can’t have it both ways.

SB 222, in this compromise form, passed the Senate unanimously in January.  Today, it passed the House on a 95-4 vote.  I expect it to be signed by the Governor.

As a practical matter, the new law essentially wipes out all HOA bylaws and regulations which had inhibited the use of solar panels — and gets rid of the vexatious subpart C and the confusing “July 1, 2008″ distinction.  It puts everyone on an even playing field without derogating basic property rights.

I had a lot of help with the bill.  Again, I’ll thank Pia and the community association folks for giving me a rare victory.  I also will give a shout-out to David Ramadan (R-Ashburn), who was an enthusiastic co-patron in 2012 and, again, this year.

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