Solar Installations

Installation of solar panels, particularly on roofs, and associated power storage is of increasing interest to homeowners. Many have already been installed on Loch Lomond properties.

This page is intended to provide information to homeowners about their rights with respect to home solar installations and to understand the permitting process with the City of San Rafael and the corresponding HOA approval process.

California Solar Rights Act (Civil Code § 714)

The State of California originally passed its Solar Rights Act in 1978 at the height of the energy crisis when roof-top thermal solar collectors became popular. The law, as amended, now provides certain protections for homeowners seeking to install solar energy systems (i.e., solar panels) on their properties.

The intent of the Solar Rights Act is to prohibit HOAs from broadly banning solar energy systems for aesthetic reasons–whether through an explicit ban or through onerous architectural restrictions that greatly reduce the performance of solar energy systems or increase their costs. The Solar Rights Act renders void and unenforceable any provision of a HOA’s governing documents that “effectively prohibits or restricts the installation or use of a solar energy system.” [Civil Code § 714(a).] 

The Solar Rights Act does, however, allow for an HOA to place “reasonable restrictions” on the installation or use of solar energy systems. “Reasonable restrictions” are those which do not “significantly increase the costs of the system or significantly decrease its efficiency or specified performance.” [Civil Code § 714(b).] In determining what constitutes a “significant” increase in cost or a “significant” decrease in performance in the context of solar panels, the Solar Rights act currently sets those thresholds at $1,000 and 10%, respectively. [Civil Code § 714(d)(1)(A&B).]

Permitting and Approval

The State of California Governor’s Office has published a Permitting Guidebook on its website which may be a useful reference for homeowners.

The City of San Rafael Building Division will issue permits whether mandatory or voluntary. The only time it will not issue a permit is if the plans are not complete or compliant with the building codes. The City does not have any local solar amendments to the California Building Code.

Loch Lomond homeowners must comply with the CC&Rs and seek approval through a submission to the Architectural Review Committee. As described above, approval cannot be denied, but it may be subject to certain conditions. The City usually advises permit applicants to follow HOA CC&Rs, but it does not require HOA approval as part of the permit application.