Bill introduced to keep HOAs from banning rooftop solar panels

February 2, 2019 GMT

BOISE — An Idaho House committee agreed Thursday that homeowners’ property rights would be better protected if homeowners associations couldn’t ban rooftop solar panels.

The House Business Committee voted unanimously to introduce a bill proposed by Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, clearing the way for a full hearing on the measure. It would protect a homeowner’s right to install solar panels and prohibit installation restrictions, unless the installation would violate building code or safety requirements.

“It’s a combination of just property rights and ensuring that people can do what they want with their houses as long as it’s not infringing on others,” Rubel said.

Aesthetics were the grounds on which homeowners associations typically defended their decision to prevent rooftop solar panels, according to Rubel.

“I think a lot of that is outdated because modern-day solar panels are really pretty unobtrusive,” Rubel said. “I don’t know if some of us remember from 20 years ago when these could be giant, clunky, glaring, shiny things. Modern solar panels are virtually invisible — they’re very hard to see from the street.”

The bill only addresses rooftop installations; Rubel said that was to ensure that people don’t place solar panels in locations that interfere with the aesthetic interest of their neighbors.

The issue was primarily brought to Rubel’s attention by the solar industry. There are a number of solar panel installation companies in the Treasure Valley who’ve run into problems, Rubel said.

“The biggest obstacle to their business right now are HOAs,” Rubel said. “They’re losing millions of dollars in business because there’s somebody in the homeowners association who just doesn’t want it for some reason and blocks them.”

Western states such as Oregon and California already have laws in place that protect people’s rights to install solar panels.

“In fact, we’re about the only state in the West that doesn’t have a law like that right now,” Rubel said. “As we want to move toward more renewable energy, it seemed like a really easy barrier to try and erase.”

Rubel said the proposed bill was “somewhat inspired” by the bill Idaho lawmakers narrowly passed in 2016, prohibiting HOAs from barring Airbnbs and other short-term rentals.

Rubel said that she sees solar panels growing in popularity in Boise and looks forward to hearing from solar panel companies and impacted residents when the bill has its public hearing.

To become law, it still would need to clear the committee after the hearing, then pass the full House and Senate and receive the governor’s signature.

“I hope when we have the public hearing you’ll hear from some of those companies in terms of the great increases in interest they’re getting from consumers, but then the frustration when those consumers run into the roadblock of finding out that for really no good reason their entire neighborhood association just bans solar panels on the roof,” Rubel said. “This hopefully will ease that.”Savannah Cardon is the Caldwell reporter for the Idaho Press. Follow her on Twitter, @savannahlcardon, or reach her at 208-465-8172.