First enacted in 1963, the Ohio Condominium Act has understandably fallen behind the times, especially when it comes to solar access. Now, Senate Bill 61 seeks to change that.
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Senate Bill 61 Makes Solar Access Changes to the Ohio Condominium Act
Senate Bill 61 was recently signed by Gov. Mike DeWine. Now law, the bill makes significant changes to the Ohio Condominium Act as well as the Ohio Planned Community Act. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Louis W. Blessing and Sen. Nickie Antonio, provides additional protections for homeowners to install solar panels on their properties in condominiums and planned developments. The bill effectively limits the ability of homeowners associations and condominiums to ban solar.
According to the new bill, unit owners who do not have units above or below them may install solar panels on the roof unless the condominium’s declaration specifically prohibits it. However, owners may only install the solar panels if all of the following conditions are met:
- The declaration specifies that the condo unit includes the roof;
- A unit owner shall shoulder the cost to “insure, maintain, repair, and replace” his/her solar panels and the condominium’s declaration specifically states that the owner is responsible for these expenses; and,
- The declaration specifically permits solar panels in the condominium and regulates the types and installation of solar panels in the shared public areas of the units and the privately owned area of the units.
For Planned Communities
Similar to the provisions for condominiums, homeowners in planned communities may install solar panels on their residence or an alternative location provided the declaration does not expressly prohibit it. However, homeowners may only do so if either of the following conditions is met:
- The homeowner shall shoulder the cost to “insure, maintain, repair, and replace” the solar panels. The roof of the home or the alternative location where the panels are installed shall be the owner’s responsibility. And the association shall not be liable for these costs; or,
- The declaration of the planned community expressly permits the use of solar panels and regulates the installation of these panels in the community. In this scenario, the declaration must also specify that it is the owner’s responsibility to “insurance, maintain, repair, and replace” the solar panels.
If a homeowner violates either of the conditions listed above because of their solar panel installation, the HOA must provide the owner with written notice prior to enforcing a fine or charge for damages. The association may email the notice and must include the following details:
- A description of the violation or damage to the property;
- The proposed amount of the fine or charge;
- A statement that the owner has a right to a disciplinary hearing in front of the HOA board to challenge the fine or charge;
- The procedure to request a disciplinary hearing; and,
- A reasonable date by which the owner must remedy the violation to avoid the fine or charge.
Not the First State to Protect Solar Rights
While the passing of Ohio SB 61 is certainly a step in the right direction for solar access, Ohio is only the latest to do so. Prior to the bill’s passing, Ohio had no such laws in place. Many states already had solar access laws before Ohio that seek to protect the right of homeowners to install solar panels in planned communities and condominiums.
One such example is California. According to Civil Code Section 714, homeowners associations may not prohibit owners from installing and using solar energy systems. However, associations may place reasonable restrictions on them. Florida Statute 163.04 offers similar protections, even extending them to include the right to dry (i.e. the use of clotheslines).
Considering the importance of renewable energy, it is not surprising that Ohio has joined in on the movement. Many homeowners in Ohio have undoubtedly waited long for this moment. While living in an HOA-run community offers better curb appeal and property values, it does come with restrictions such as this. Ironically, though, it is the existence of these very restrictions that help keep property values high.
But, solar energy devices have come a long way. Original designs tended to look bulky and unappealing, which is primarily why many associations don’t allow them. As technology advanced, so did panel designs. Today, it is not hard to find solar panels that would sit flush against the roof of a home.
Other Changes Made
Although solar access makes up the bulk of the change, Senate Bill 61 also addresses other issues, including:
- The board’s authority to use electronic methods to send notices;
- A majority of board members belonging to the same unit;
- Limit record requests;
- Added insurance requirements;
- Remove outdated and discriminatory language.
To understand the full extent of the changes made, HOA boards should review the bill and/or consult a lawyer for advice.
In the Works for Some Time
Senate Bill 61 is the result of years of planning. Originally introduced in 2019 by Sen. Blessing, the bill went through some changes with the help of Darcy Mehling Good, a Partner of Ohio’s Community Associations Legislative Action Committee. In December 2020, the Senate passed the new bill, but it did not make it to the House.
In February 2021, Sen. Blessing reintroduced the bill with Sen. Antonio as a co-sponsor. It is worth noting that Sen. Blessing comes from the Republican party, while Sen. Antonio comes from the Democratic party. Although the parties disagree on many issues, Senate Bill 61 received overwhelming bipartisan support. After seven more co-sponsors were added, the bill finally passed in the House and Senate in 2022. On June 14, 2022, Gov. DeWine signed the bill into law.
Senate Bill 61, which amends the Ohio Condominium Act and the Ohio Planned Act, is set to take effect on September 11, 2022.
Progress for Homeowners
The Ohio Condominium Act and the Ohio Planned Community Act have not undergone extensive changes in years. Senate Bill 61 allows for broader protections and wider access for owners who want to install and use solar panels on their homes. Of course, the bill does not aim to push associations into a corner. It still allows associations to impose reasonable restrictions.
Elite Management Services provides a wide range of services to homeowners associations, including legal assistance. Call us today at (855) 238-8488 or contact us online to request a free proposal.
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