TRUCKEE, Calif. — Many of us live in subdivisions with homeowners associations and subdivision Covenants and sometimes compulsory Design Guidelines. For the most part, HOA’s run smoothly but at times an owner and the Association become at odds. Teroso Del Valle Association v. Griffin is such a case — and a good example of how an Association must follow its own rules and balance the interests of its members.Solar PanelsMartin and Carolyn Griffin wanted to install a solar energy system at their fancy L.A. home in Tesoro del Valle. The subdivision CCandamp;R’s required the prior approval of the Architectural Control Committee for any construction and spelled out a complete application submittal process.The Griffins submittal did not meet the ACC requirements and was not much more than a conceptual presentation. After some back and forth, the ACC did not approve the solar application but provided comments, asked for additional information and suggested a different location for the solar panels — as the proposed area of installation had a direct line of sight for others in the subdivision. The ACC expected the Griffins to submit a revised application.LawsuitInstead they blatantly installed their solar panels. Such arrogance always amazes me. If you don’t like rules, don’t live in a subdivision. The HOA filed a lawsuit challenging the installation and the Griffins countersued claiming the California Solar Rights Act gave them the right to install the solar panels.California Solar Rights ActCivil Code Section 714 encourages solar and prohibits homeowners associations from imposing restrictions that actively prohibit the installation of a solar energy system; however, the Code does not apply to “reasonable restrictions.” Reasonable restrictions on a solar energy system are those restrictions “that do not significantly increase the cost of the system or significantly decrease its efficiency or specified performance, or that allow for an alternative system of comparable costs, efficiency, and energy conservation benefits.”The question was whether the Association’s recommended alternative location for the solar system was a “reasonable restriction” as required by Section 714. Presumption of ValidityMost Associations in California are subject to the Davis-Stirling Act (in the Civil Code) which gives HOA’s the right to impose reasonable CCandamp;R’s. Associations are deemed to have “broad discretion to grant or withhold consent to construction.”The California Supreme Court has written, “Generally, recorded use of restrictions are accorded a presumption of validity and are enforced unless they are wholly arbitrary, violate a fundamental public policy or impose a burden on the use of affected land that far outweighs any benefit.”RulingThe Court in Tesoro del Valle upheld the HOA’s restrictions on solar panels — finding them to mirror Section 714. The Court additionally ruled the aesthetics of solar systems may be considered by the Association. That’s new.The Court went further concluding the Association met its own ACC requirements even though the Association’s denial letter to the Griffins was late because it had been misaddressed. Finally, the Court ruled the Griffins had not submitted a complete and sufficient application for their solar system. That’ll do it every time. I agree with this decision. Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. He was the Governor's appointee to the California Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, foreclosures, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the firm’s website www.portersimon.com.
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