Solar Energy Systems: Regulating Owners’ Installation on Shared Multi-family Common Area Roofs

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By Emily A. Long, Esq.

By Emily A. Long, Esq.

Since January 1, 2018, California common interest developments have been required to allow members to install solar energy systems[1] on shared multifamily common area roofs of buildings within which their units are located and on roofs of adjacent carports or garages. (See Civ. Code §§ 714.1, 4600 and 4746).  While we do not have an abundance of mid or high-rise common interest developments in the desert, we do see many buildings with shared multifamily common area roofs.

Luckily, the requirement to allow solar energy systems does not mean that associations are prohibited from implementing reasonable requirements to guide solar energy system installation and protect associations from liability. Below, we summarize some of relevant law’s important provisions on this topic, and provide further guidance on how to remain compliant.  Associations should work with counsel to develop guidelines that take into consideration the recommendations provided below.

  1. An association shall not establish 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, or a garage or carport adjacent to the building that has been assigned to the owner for exclusive use. (Cal. Civ. Code §714.1(b)(1).)

Owners cannot place solar panels or equipment on whatever common area they choose, but rather are limited to the buildings or structures in which they own. Also note, if a carport is adjacent to the building but is not assigned, the association is not required to allow an owner to place solar energy equipment on that carport.

  1. When reviewing a request to install a solar energy system on a multifamily common area roof, the association must require an applicant to notify each owner of a unit in the building on which the installation will be located of the application. (Cal. Civ. Code §4746(a)(1).)

For practical purposes, we suggest any association with common area roofs include this requirement in its guidelines to notify all owners in the same building. Associations may require the applicant to provide signatures from the notified owners or certified mail receipts showing the notification was sent as part of its application process. That way, if a neighboring owner challenges the owner’s solar installation, the association has proof that the owner complied with the guidelines.

  1. The association must require the applicant and each successive owner of that unit to maintain a homeowner liability coverage policy and provide the certificate of insurance within 14 days of approval and annually thereafter. (Cal. Civ. Code § 4746(a)(2).)

Unfortunately, the California Legislature did not clarify what an association can or should do if an owner does not comply with this requirement. We believe the Legislature would not force an association to permit a solar energy system to be installed if there is no proof that it is insured, so we think revocation of approval is appropriate in that instance. However, there are unanswered questions with respect to insurance and we recommend you discuss such concerns with association counsel.

  1. When reviewing a request to install a solar energy system on common area, the association may impose a requirement to submit a solar site survey showing the placement of the system. If the association requires this solar survey, it must “include a determination of an equitable allocation of the usable solar roof area among all owners sharing the same roof, garage, or carport.” (Cal. Civ. Code §4746(b)(1(B).)

This provision means the association can impose guidelines regarding aesthetic standards, so long as the guidelines do not “significantly increase the cost of the system or significantly decrease its efficiency or specific performance…” as described in Civil Code §714.  For example, an association can provide that the preferred location of all solar energy systems is one that results in the least visual impact.  However, if the only feasible location for solar panels to be placed is on a roof which directly faces the street and any other location would significantly decrease the system’s efficiency, the association cannot prohibit an owner from placing the solar panels on the roof that faces the street.

Additionally, this provision provides that an association “may” require that an owner provide a solar site survey showing the usable area of the rooftop and the proposed placement of the solar energy system.[2] We recommend every association with common area roofs require the submission of a solar survey in its solar guidelines. Alternatively, an association may perform its own solar site survey.

As for the “equitable allocation,” we interpret this provision to mean an association may require the owner to abide by the equitable allocation as called for in the site survey by using only the owner’s share of the rooftop and leaving the remainder available for other owners of units in the building. The phrasing of Civil Code §4746(b)(1) seems to indicate that the requesting owner may choose where the solar energy system is placed, so long as the owner owns a portion of the building on which it will be placed, and complies with other requirements.

  1. The association may require the owner and each successive owner to be responsible for costs of any damage to the common area, exclusive use common area or unit; costs for the solar energy system; and disclosures to prospective buyers. (Cal. Civ. Code §4746(b)(2).)

We highly recommend each association require an applicant to sign a license, maintenance, and indemnity agreement taking on the above responsibilities, which may then be recorded on title so all prospective buyers are put on constructive notice of the agreement. This agreement should include language which clarifies that the owner may be required to remove the solar energy system, at their cost, to allow for common area maintenance or repair.

  1. The association must still abide by Civil Code §714.

California Civil Code § 714(a) prohibits any declaration and other governing document provision(s) from prohibiting or restricting the installation of solar energy systems outright. As such, any restrictions on the installation of these systems are declared invalid if the restrictions “significantly” increase the cost of the system or “significantly” decrease the efficiency of the system.[3]  Civil Code § 714 also provides penalties for willful noncompliance and attorneys’ fees are recoverable by a prevailing party.[4]

Emily Long, Esq., Epsten, APC.  Epsten, APC is a community association law firm that has been providing solutions to Southern California common interest development legal issues since 1986.  You can reach Emily at [email protected].

“Associations should work with counsel to develop guidelines that take into consideration these recommendations for solar energy system installation on shared multifamily common area roofs.


[1] For purposes of these Guidelines, the term “solar energy system” refers to both solar domestic water heating systems and/or photovoltaic systems, as applicable to an Owner’s request.

[2] The cost to perform this survey shall not be deemed as part of the cost of the system as used in Civil Code §714.

[3]See Civil code § 714(d)(1)(A) and (B) for a further definition of what a “significant increase” or “significant decrease” means under the law.

[4] See Civil Code § 714(f) and (g).

*This article was originally published in CAI Coachella Valley’s HOA Living Magazine in the June 2022 edition and was adapted from the original article, Solar Panels and Solar Energy Systems: The Association’s Ability to Regulate Owners’ Installation on Common Area) as authored by Jillian M. Wright, Esq.

Emily Long, Esq., Epsten, APC.  Epsten, APC is a community association law firm that has been providing solutions to Southern California common interest development legal issues since 1986.  You can reach Emily at [email protected].

Associations should work with counsel to develop guidelines that take into consideration these recommendations for solar energy system installation on shared multifamily common area roofs.