Solar and Homeowner Associations

Solar and HOA’s in Maryland

8_rszed_0Through passage of HB 117 in 2008, the Maryland Real Property Code was amended to prohibit land use covenants that impose unreasonable restrictions on the installation of solar systems outside of specifically designated historic districts. This means that groups like homeowners associations cannot put burdensome rules in place that make it difficult to go solar.

Property covenants are conditions and restrictions tied to the use of land. With the exception of specifically designated historic districts (see below for more information), Maryland law prohibits any restrictions that (1) significantly increase the cost of a solar system, and/or (2) significantly decrease the system’s efficiency. Examples would include:

  • Requiring that your system not be visible from the street, or to only be installed on certain portions of your roof. This is because, if your home faces due south, preventing you from installing the system on the southern portion of your roof would significantly decrease your system’s production.
  • Requiring that you purchase panels or racking structures that are a certain color or made of a certain material, if those materials are more expensive.

We still recommend that you consult with you neighborhood or housing association to determine relevant local bylaws before pursuing a solar installation. If you feel your HOA imposes unreasonable restrictions on solar installation, we recommend you then consult with your local planning commission. If you determine that your rights are being violated, then take action.

If you are experiencing such challenges, respond by:

  • Raising the issue on the MD SUN listserve. This resource is designed for members to share experiences and help each other navigate all aspects of the solar installation process.
  • Use research like this to help make the argument that solar can enhance the value of homes in your community. Or explain how the appraisal community is working to incorporate the value of solar in property valuation.
  • Set up a meeting with your HOA. Share the law with the board and members to ensure they know your rights related to installing a solar system.

It’s important to note that historic districts can still place restrictions on whether solar can be installed on homes located in the district. Some districts prohibit all solar, or only allow solar that is not visible from the street. Others, such as Howard County Historic District Commission and Montgomery County Planning Commission have developed guidelines to allow for solar. The National Alliance of Preservation Commissions has published these Sample Guidelines for Solar Systems in Historic Districts, which may be helpful if you live in an historic district that has yet to adopt a policy on solar installations.

Baltimore City

Baltimore City has dozens of specially designated historic districts, known in the city as Centers for Historic and Architectural Preservation (CHAPs). A comprehensive electronic listing is available publicly. Some important notes on CHAPs and solar in Baltimore City:

  • Baltimore’s present zoning code does not specifically prohibit solar installations in CHAPs, but calls for them to be located in the most inconspicuous location as possible and approaches installations on a case by case basis.
  • Existing solar installations in Baltimore’s CHAPs have occurred only on homes with flat roofs as of August 2014. There is no precedent for the appeal of a solar installation by a CHAP to the city planning commission.
  • Baltimore’s proposed new zoning code, TransForm Baltimore, does not alter existing protections for CHAPs but does cite a desire for the city to “evolve in rich, creative ways.”
  • It is our hope that developing rooftop solar projects in Baltimore will create an opportunity to develop an inclusive policy governing solar installations in Baltimore’s CHAPs given the spirit of the city’s proposed new zoning code.

 For more information on law related to homeowner associations and solar in Maryland, visit DSIRE’s page on the topic.