Missouri appellate court rules that solar panels can stay in subdivision

A Missouri appellate court ruled on Tuesday that homeowners associations in the state may not force the removal of solar panels if their association deed restrictions do not specifically prohibit them.

In May 2014, a subdivision in the St. Louis suburbs told a couple living there that they would have to remove the solar panels from the rear-facing roof of their house. The homeowners, Susan Hanley and Brian Hauge, then asked the circuit court to dismiss the association’s demand that the solar panels be removed.

The trial court ruled in August, 2014 that the couple did not have to remove their solar panels. The court grounded its decision in the fact that the deed restriction did not list solar panels as one of the features that the board of trustees could control. Without a specific mention of solar panels, the court said, the association’s board of trustees had no jurisdiction over them.

The appellate court on Tuesday affirmed the trial court’s decision, meaning that the solar panels can stay.

Although an appellate-court ruling typically serves as a precedent within the area covered by that court, the judges in this matter included a statement instructing lawyers not to cite this ruling in related cases. The ruling will not be published either.

Steve Jeffery, the lawyer representing the homeowners, said he wasn’t certain why the court opted not to publish the ruling, although he theorized that it might have been due to an admonishment of the association’s attorney that was added to the end of the decision.

Although that probably will diminish the impact of the ruling, Jeffery said that the court’s analysis likely will make its way through the Missouri legal community grapevine, meaning that it may discourage some subdivisions from demanding the removal of solar panels.

Subdivisions throughout Missouri and numerous other states have challenged members who have opted to put up solar arrays. For a few years, bills allowing solar panels within the confines of homeowner associations have been introduced into the Missouri General Assembly. They’ve never gotten much traction.

Subdivisions built decades ago, before the advent of residential solar installations, almost inevitably will have no mention of solar panels among the features they prohibit, Jeffery said. That would mean that, without a revision of the deed restriction, it would be difficult for an association to make a case for the removal of a solar array.

Even though this case lacks the power of precedent, Jeffery said, “Most courts I think would have to agree with the analysis used, because it is pretty clear.”

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