We are seeing a flare-up of photovoltaics (AKA solar systems) to capture “free energy” being installed in our Hallmark neighborhood. That’s led us to look into any potential pitfalls that might not be so blindingly obvious . We did an earlier article on how solar leases, often offered by solar companies, which showed. that while appearing to be a cheap alternative to purchasing a system outright, have consequences down the road when trying to sell your home. We also touched on, between rebates and surcharges, how much more savings you can receive if you opt to purchase your system outright.
For this short piece, we thought we’d shed some light on a new legals issue which are filtered behind the scenes—solar easements—the right for somebody to have access to sunlight to generate electricity. This will obviously rise to become a hot topic as more systems are installed. And certainly Belmont, who has thus far managed to side step the issue of a view ordinance, may be forced into dealing with solar ordinances in order for people with their $30,000 systems to continue to receive enough light to generate power. It seems like a real tree ordinance that covers not only the health of trees and regulation regarding their removal, but balances that against the need for maintaining our diminishing views in Belmont, could also deal with the inevitable solar system issues on the horizon, would be a bright idea, and one which perhaps would set a good example with more forward thinking legislation.
Homeowners, as well as businesses, are taking long, serious looks at this alternative source of power. As with any new technology, however, there are potential problems. For example, the sun’s rays must reach the solar collectors in order to produce energy from either active or passive systems. If the sun were always directly overhead there would be no problem. It is not, of course, and this brings up the question of solar access – the availability of sunlight to reach a building’s solar collectors. Resolution of this problem often involves access across adjacent properties, which, in turn, involves a neighbor’s air space.
For the building owner, access questions involve both the height and setback of adjacent buildings. That’s where negotiated agreements for solar easements come into sharp focus.
Under such an agreement, one property owner would receive assurances from the other that the sunlight which travels over the neighbor’s property would always be available. The neighbor, and all subsequent owners, would be restricted in building or planting trees which could obstruct the sunlight.
After agreement, if such solar easements are properly recorded, problems could arise if the property is subsequently sold and the new owners are either unaware of the easement or not in agreement with its conditions.
A solar easement establishes certain land use conditions agreed to by the property owners involved. Such an agreement includes:
- a description of the dimensions of the easement, including vertical and horizontal angles measured in the degrees or the hours of the day, on specific dates, during which direct sunlight to a specified surface or structural design feature may not be obstructed;
- restrictions placed upon vegetation, structures and other objects which would impair or obstruct the passage of sunlight through the easement, and ;
- the terms and conditions, if any, under which the easement may be revised or terminated.
It is important, of course, that all solar easements be officially recorded, just as other uses and conditions are included in public records. Otherwise, such an easement might not be noted during the title search at the time of a real estate sale.
Such an omission could create serious problems at a later date when the new owners decide to make structural or landscape changes that would affect the path of sunlight across their property.
Part of this article was edited from an article by the California Land Title Association.
Drew & Christine Morgan are REALTORS/NOTARY PUBLIC in Belmont, CA. with more than 20 years of experience in helping sellers and buyers in their community. They may be reached at (650) 508.1441 or emailed at email@example.com.
The information contained in this article is educational and intended for informational purposes only. It does not constitute real estate, tax or legal advice, nor does it substitute for advice specific to your situation. Always consult an appropriate professional familiar with your scenario.