Summary of case showing how a homeowners’ association’s CC&Rs can conflict with an owner’s solar energy plans

Teroso Del Valle Homeowners Assoc. v. Griffin (October 3, 2011)

Cal. Court of Appeal (Second District, Division 2) B222531

Interesting case showing how a homeowners’ association’s CC&Rs can conflict with an owner’s solar energy plans:

SUMMARY OF KEY FACTS:

After a ten-day trial, a jury found in favor of Tesoro Homeowners’ Association (HOA)’s claims that homeowners, the Griffins, installed a solar system in contravention of the HOA Conditions, Covenants, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment.

The CC&Rs required an owner to obtain approval from the Architectural Control Committee (ACC) before making any improvements to their property. The CC&Rs also prohibited structures from being placed on slopes that could cause drainage problems or other damage. The HOA also had Design Guidelines (DG) which mirrored Civil Code section 714 which allows CC&Rs to impose reasonable restrictions on photovoltaic systems that do not significantly increase costs (more than $2000), decrease efficiencies or performance (by 20%), or that allow for a comparable, alternative system. Finally, the CC&Rs allowed the HOA to consider aesthetic impacts of a solar system.

The Griffins requested permission to install a solar system on the slope next to their home, later modifying plans by having part of the system installed on their roof in addition to the slope. The HOA denied the system on the slope out of concern for drainage problems and line-of-sight issues. The Griffins started to build the project any way, starting with the roof, and then removed landscaping on the slope and poured a concrete foundation for pylons. At that point, they finally agreed to the HOA demands to suspend construction but refused to return the slope to its original condition. The Griffins disagreed with ongoing HOA restrictions on the slope and ultimately thumbed their noses and completed the entire $97,000 project.

The HOA sued the Griffins for breach of the CC&Rs regarding the slope issues. The Griffins cross-complained.

SUMMARY OF COURT RULING:

The Court of Appeal followed existing case law upholding the right of a HOA to impose reasonable limitations through CC&Rs. The Court also found the CC&Rs could include reasonable restrictions on solar installations pursuant to Civil Code 714. The homeowner has the burden to propose a solar system that meets the approval of the HOA. The HOA did not have to propose an alternative after it denied the Griffins’ request. All questions as to whether the HOA complied with the CC&Rs and section 714 were properly submitted to the jury as questions of fact, not law. The jury found in favor of the HOA, and the Court upheld the judgment.

This case is another example of how expensive and drawn out battles between HOAs and homeowners can be.

Prepared by John Reaves

 

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