By:  Stephan P. Hyun, Esq.

As spring season is underway, you may work on some spring cleaning, perhaps tend to your plants and flowers that have started blossoming. With winter gone, the days are becoming longer and weather is getting warmer. You may be thinking of ways to take advantage of all this sunlight…this solar energy. After all, solar energy has become much more prevalent in warmer climate locales as a primary or supplementary source of power.

With this growing emergence of solar energy and reliance on that form of power, it is important that homeowners know their rights so that they can harness and capture the full potential of what their solar energy system may offer. What can you do if your solar panels are blocked by shade from a neighbor’s towering tree? What are your solar rights?

Most people are unaware that California enacted the Solar Shade Control Act (“the Act”), which is a way to provide an avenue of protection for homeowners. Part of the Act states that after the solar energy system (e.g. solar panels) is installed, neighbors cannot allow their trees or shrubs to cover in shade more than 10% of the solar panels at any time within the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If the neighbors fail to remove or alter the shade causing vegetation after receiving written notice from the owner of the solar panels, those neighbors’ conduct constitutes a private nuisance and is actionable under California law.

It is important to note that just with many laws, there are exemptions to the Act. Notable exemptions include vegetation that is planted, owned, and maintained by the city or county, since a city or county may pass an ordinance exempting them from purview of the Act, as well as vegetation planted prior to the installation of the solar panels.

If you live at a residence that must abide by the rules and regulations of a homeowners association, you have additional rights set forth under California Civil Code Section 714, which states that homeowners associations cannot prohibit or restrict the installation or use of solar panels on private property.

The Act talks about vegetation specifically but what about solar panels blocked by an adjacent building’s shade? Unfortunately, the Act does not cover or specify a landowner’s rights in regards to obstructive buildings. However, there is another route for the landowner. In order to protect the landowner’s rights, pursuant to California Civil Code Section 801.5, the landowner can obtain what is called a “solar easement” which allows the landowner to receive sunlight across real property of another for use for solar panels or similar solar energy systems. As a result, this “solar easement” restricts what the adjoining building owner could build if it would block the sunlight that your solar panels receive. This easement should describe the measurements/dimensions of the easement, the hours of the day during which direct sunlight must not be obstructed, what specific objects are restricted in blocking the sunlight, any conditions that would allow revisions or termination of the easement, and the easement should be recorded in the county where the properties are located.

Hopefully with this primer on solar rights, you can feel more comfortable in taking the plunge on solar energy and feel confident protecting your investment in the sun.