AB 634 – Now Law

Sustainable Rossmoor Sponsored AB 634 Solar Energy Legislation Is Signed Into Law, effective January 1, 2018!

California has a new law governing rooftop solar installation in condominiums and co-ops as a result of the passage of Sustainable-Rossmoor-sponsored AB 634  last year.

Our thanks, and the thanks of all California condo owners seeking to install solar panels, must go out to Brent Barnhart and Jennifer Mu, the Rossmoor residents who wrote the initial legislation and then carefully and tirelessly  shepherded it through the pitfalls and vicissitudes of the California State Legislature; pushing back or amending the bill when they had to, always aware of and quickly countering the opponents’ sometimes artful, sometimes untruthful counterattacks behind the scene. After learning of AB 634’s final approval, they sent this message to our membership and readers:

The new law will  do the following: (1) prohibit California’s home owner associations (HOAs) from imposing an outright ban on rooftop solar energy systems; (2) exempt rooftop solar installation from the 67% HOA membership approval requirement; and (3) provide protection to homeowners who share the same roof space with the homeowner(s) who are applying to install a new rooftop solar system. 

DOWNLOADABLE Bill Text – AB-634 solar energy systems.
California Civil Code Sections 714, 714.1, 4600 4746
(Red-lined provisions were added by AB 634)

ROSSMOOR MUTUALS

Effective January 1st, 2018, Mutuals are no longer allowed by law to refuse to accept and consider a homeowner’s request to install solar panels on the roof of a building where the applicant lives, and on the roof of an adjacent garage or carport that has already been assigned to the applicant for exclusive use.

Below is a summary of provisions of the California Solar Rights Act and the Davis-Stirling Act with which Mutuals must comply in reviewing and approving a member’s request to install a solar energy system on common area roofs.  For the text of these provisions and AB 634, please refer to the attached documents.

Mutual Authority 

Regarding installation of solar systems on the roof of a building where the applicant lives, and on the roof of an adjacent garage or carport that has already been assigned to the applicant for exclusive use:

Mutuals are prohibited from:

  • Establishing a general prohibition policy [Civil Code (CIV)§714.1(b)(1)] (Added by AB 634)
  • Requiring 67% membership approval. [CIV§714.1(b)(2); CIV§4600(b)(3)(J)] (Added by AB 634)

Mutuals may:

  • Impose “reasonable” restrictions on the installation of solar energy systems. [CIV 714.1(a)]
  • However, restrictions imposed by the Mutual may not increase the system cost by more than $1,000, or decrease the system efficiency by 10%. [CIV714(b); §714(d)(B)]

Approval Process 

  • An application for approval to install a solar energy system must be processed and approved in the same manner as any other architectural modification application, and “shall not be willfully avoided or delayed.” [CIV714(e)(1)]
  • The approval or denial of an application must be in writing. [CIV714(e)(2)(A)]
  • If an application is not denied in writing within 45 days from the date the application is received, the application is deemed approved, unless the delay is the result of a reasonable request for additional information. [CIV714(e)(2)(B)]

When reviewing a request to install a solar system, Mutuals MUST require:

  • An applicant to notify other owners living in the same building of the application to install a solar energy system. [CIV4746(a)(1)] (Added by AB 634)
  • The owner and each successive owner of the system to maintain a homeowner liability coverage policy at all times, and provide Mutual with a certificate of insurance within 14 days of approval of the application, and annually thereafter. [CIV4746(a)(2)] (Added by AB 634)

When reviewing a request to install a solar system, Mutuals  MAY require:

  • The applicant to submit a solar site survey prepared by a licensed contractor to determine usable solar roof area, and to determine an equitable allocation of the usable solar roof area among all owners sharing the same roof. [CIV4746(b)(1)(A) & (B)] (Added by AB 634)
  • The owner and each successive owner of the solar system to pay any costs for damages to the common area, exclusive use common area, and separate interests that are caused by the installation, maintenance, repair, removal, or replacement of the solar system. [CIV4746(b)(2)(A)] (Added by AB 634)
  • The owner and each successive owner to pay for the costs for the maintenance, repair and replacement of solar systems until it has been removed, and for the restoration of the common area, exclusive use common area, or separate interests after removal. [CIV4746(b)(2)(B)] (Added by AB 634)
  • The owner and each successive owner to disclose to prospective buyers the existence of any solar energy system and the owner’s related responsibilities. [CIV§4746(b)(2)(C)] (Added by AB 634)

GRASSROOTS ACTIVISM

In an effort to ensure that Rossmoor’s condominium owners had easier access to electricity from their own rooftop solar energy systems, Sustainable Rossmoor (SR) sponsored legislation to resolve conflicts in existing law (by clarifying the California’s Solar Rights Act) and thereby strengthening the rights of all of California’s condo owners to install rooftop solar panels.

Sustainable Rossmoor’s president Marcia McLean was invited to testify at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.  On July 18th Ms McLean and the following Rossmoor residents: Anne Foreman, Marie Kahn, Karen Perkins, Gregg Thrall, Carol Weed, David Epley, Brent Barnhart, Jennifer Mu, as well as two representatives from The Villages in San Jose, appeared at the hearing and spoke in support of the bill.  The bill continued to be subject to last-minute, strong opposition from the president of the Center for California Homeowner Association Laws, who claimed that by eliminating the membership vote requirement, the bill would shift the costs of maintenance and repair of solar panels and common roofs from the homeowner installing solar equipment to all homeowners in the community.  Our argument was that her claim as stated, is baseless, and no senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee appeared to be convinced of the opposition’s arguments.

Then again on June 27th, nine members of Sustainable Rossmoor traveled to Sacramento to voice support of AB 634 during its hearing before the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.  In addition to the two leaders of this effort, Brent Barnhart and Jennifer Mu, the following SR members participated: Marcia McLean, Herb Solomon, David Epley, Anne Foreman, Gerry Manata, Bob Hanson, and Carol Weed.  Marcia, representing Sustainable Rossmoor, presented formal testimony in support and the rest of us voiced our individual support.  Afterwards we all posed in front of the California Bear outside the Governor’s Office.

Despite last-minute opposition testimony, AB 634, as amended, was unanimously approved by the Committee members and passed on to the Senate Judiciary Committee where was heard on July 18th.

Previously, in advance of a key vote on AB 634 by the California Assembly Judiciary Committee on May 2, 2017, Sustainable Rossmoor members and other interested condo owners mounted a large and very successful email and phone campaign in support of AB 634.  Our efforts were augmented by concerned condo owners from The Villages in San Jose and from other developments throughout California.   At that time, Sustainable Rossmoor assembled a group of eight members to visit the Sacramento Assembly offices of the eleven Judiciary Committee members on Wednesday, April 19, and lobby on behalf of AB 634. In addition to the two leaders of this effort, Brent Barnhart and Jennifer Mu, the following SR members participated: Marcia McLean, Alan Wong, Herb Solomon, David Epley, Anne Foreman, and Carol Weed. They visited all eleven assembly members’ offices and were successful in speaking directly to many of the legislative assistants assigned to evaluate AB 634.

      

Mainly because this is a well-crafted bill being artfully guided through the State Assembly by Barnhart, Mu, and Eggman (but also in part due to SR’s successful multifaceted lobbying efforts); the staffers of the Assembly Judiciary Committee members were convinced that AB 634 was a worthy bill.  At the hearing, there was a motion to move the bill, which was seconded by a Republican member, even before Assemblymember Eggman presented the bill. The Judiciary Committee members voted unanimously in favor of the Bill. The Chair thanked her for fixing a real problem and helping the State to expand solar energy options. The consultant to the Assembly Republican Caucus recommended “support” in his analysis, thus we were hopeful for widespread, bipartisan support of this bill when it came up for approval by the entire Assembly. Nonetheless, we urged our club members and other local supporters of AB 634 to contact our Assemblymember, Catharine Baker, to show our commitment and ask for her support. After some amendment discussions, AB 634 was passed by a rare unanimous vote of the California Assembly on May 15, 2017.

Sustainable Rossmoor wishes to thank its members, and the Democrats of Rossmoor, for their help in writing support letters and soliciting support from friends and family members and environmental groups outside Rossmoor.

 

THE CONFLICTING LAWS – WHY WE ACTED

The countervailing effects of the two conflicting laws regarding the installation of residential solar energy systems recently reached a critical point in Rossmoor when some Mutuals began to require a 67% mutual-wide, or project-wide, membership approval as a permit condition. This requirement is particularly burdensome because non-votes are counted as “No” votes. As a result, installations of rooftop solar systems have been effectively blocked in those mutuals. Mutual directors have said that their options are limited due to their legal counsel’s interpretation of what is required by state law.

AB 634, authored by Assemblymember Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) on behalf of Sustainable Rossmoor, was written to resolve conflicts created in California’s Civil Code relating to the installation of rooftop solar systems in common interest developments (CID). On the one hand, the California Solar Rights Act provides that any provision in a condominium governing documents that effectively prohibits or restricts the installation or use of a solar energy system is “void and unenforceable.” On the other hand, the Solar Rights Act also allows HOAs to impose “reasonable restrictions,” which some HOAs’ attorneys interpret as empowering a HOA to impose very onerous costs and other restrictions that significantly raise the bar for approval to individuals seeking solar installation permits.

Another conflict arises out of a Civil Code provision in the current Davis-Stirling Act, which requires approval of 67% of a CID’s membership before a HOA can grant an individual member exclusive use of a common area. Attorneys of certain mutuals in Rossmoor have argued that such a requirement, however onerous it may be, is allowed under the “reasonable restrictions” provision of the Solar Rights Act.

We are extremely grateful for all the support and help of Rossmoorians and other Californians interested in protecting our right to enjoy the benefits of living in sunny California.