A homeowner in the Tesoro del Valle Master Homeowners Association installed solar panels on a slope adjacent to his property without HOA approval. For aesthetic reasons and because of slope structure restrictions, the HOA wanted the panels on the owner's roof. The owner refused and the association sued.
Aesthetic Considerations. The homeowner argued that "aesthetic considerations" were an improper part of the review process and violated Civil Code § 714. The court disagreed. It ruled that "an evaluation of a proposed solar energy system--just as any other proposed improvement--would involve consideration of aesthetics."
Cost Considerations. Expert testimony by the association showed that the cost of installing the solar panels on the owner's roof was actually cheaper than installing them on the slope. Based on the testimony, the court ruled that the HOA's guidelines were not unduly burdensome and, therefore, reasonable.
Redesign. The owner then argued that once the architectural committee disapproved his original application, it had a duty to redesign his solar energy system to meet their guidelines. Again the court disagreed. The court found that the law imposed no such burden on associations. Per statute, the only obligation by the committee was to inform the owner of the basis for its denial of his application. The court ruled that "the burden is on the homeowner to submit an application that is complete and sufficient to generate [architectural committee] approval." (Tesoro del Valle v. Griffen.)
Recommendation: If an association's architectural guidelines are reasonable, they are enforceable. If boards are unsure about their guidelines, they should have an architect and legal counsel review them.
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