The Solar Rights Act (CA Civil Code 714), enacted in 1978, bars restrictions by homeowners associations (HOAs) on the installation of solar-energy systems, but originally did not specifically apply to cities, counties, municipalities or other public entities. Subsequent legislation extended these restrictions to all public entities and common interest developments. These entities are allowed to impose reasonable restrictions on a solar energy system that do not significantly increase the cost of the system or significantly decrease its efficiency or specified performance.
"Significantly" was not originally defined, but later legislation adopted a specific dollar amount and system efficiency impact that the legislature deemed significant. These figures were amended by AB 2188 in 2014. Currently, entities are allowed to impose reasonable restrictions on a solar energy system that do not add more than $1,000 to the cost, or limit the efficiency of the system by 10%.
Reasonable attorney's fees incurred during a court case between a property owner and a common interest development or HOA will be awarded to the prevailing party. AB 2180 of 2008 provided even more consumer protections under the Civil Code by providing that any homeowners' association that is not a public entity that willfully violates the Solar Rights Act must pay the solar system owner a civil penalty not to exceed $1,000. AB 2180 further provides that the approval or denial of any application submitted to authorize the installation of a system must be made in writing within 60 days. If the application is not denied within 60 days it will be deemed approved unless the delay is the result of a reasonable request for additional information.
AB 634 of 2017 extended protection to solar system installations in common areas and limits associations from establishing a general policy prohibiting the installation or use of a rooftop solar energy system for household purposes on the roof of the building in which the owner resides. This bill also prohibits the association from requiring a vote of homeowners for installation of a solar energy system. Previously, an affirmative vote of at least 67% of homeowners would have been required the board could grant exclusive use of a portion of the common area to an individual homeowner.