A couple who live in The Orchards subdivision in Belleville are being sued by their homeowners association for installing solar panels on the roof on the front and back of their home.
The association rejected half of its plan last fall, citing subdivision rules that allow solar panels only on rear-facing roofs for aesthetic reasons.
Jennifer and Mark Bassler implemented their comprehensive plan in early December. They argue that Illinois law protects their right to install solar panels where they are needed to be fully efficient, saving them money on electricity costs and protecting the environment.
“We love our neighborhood and we hate giving our homeowners association a bad image,” said Jennifer Bassler, 37, a second-grade teacher with two young children. “But at the same time, we have to take care of our families, and in our hearts we know that is not right.”
The association of orchard owners filed a civil lawsuit on December 9, 2020. His amended lawsuit asks the St. Clair County Circuit Court to require Basslers to remove their front panels in accordance with its solar energy policy and others subdivision restrictions and to pay all legal fees.
The couple’s attorney, John Albers, of Shaw Law in Peoria, filed a motion to dismiss on March 22. claiming that the association violates an Illinois law known as the Homeowners’ Energy Policy Statement Act.
The law was enacted in 2011 to keep owners associations adopt measures that would prevent residents of subdivisions or condominiums from installing solar energy systems, as it describes legislative intent.
“To me it is quite obvious that if your policy says you can only have solar panels in the back of your house, and there are no exceptions (if that placement is not feasible) ), it violates state law, ”Albers said. noted. “The law says very clearly that a policy cannot prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting a solar system.”
Deputy Judge Julie Katz denied the Basslers’ request to dismiss the case on May 19 and scheduled a status conference hearing for July 26.
The state encourages solar energy
The Orchards Homeowners Association is a not-for-profit corporation with a board of directors made up of three volunteer members. Her day-to-day operations are managed by Natalie Stinson of Pinnacle HOA Management.
On Thursday, Stinson declined to comment on the lawsuit. She referred the questions to lawyer Mike Wagner of Clayborne & Wagner in Belleville, who did not answer phone calls.
It is common for subdivisions to have rules and regulations that people agree to follow when buying property. It is rare for landlord associations in court on solar panels, according to Albers, a former administrative judge with the Illinois Commerce Commission.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time someone has gone to court (Homeowners Energy Policy Statement Act),” he said.
Since the law was enacted 10 years ago, the state has taken further steps to encourage the transition to renewable energy, offering financial incentives to supplement federal grants and rebates.
Legislation that would amend the law is now awaiting the signature of Governor JB Pritzker. It further strengthens the owners rights switch to solar power, Albers said.
The Orchards subdivision is built around the Orchards Golf Club, an 18-hole public golf course off Green Mount Road, northeast of Eckert’s. It also has a restaurant and a swimming pool.
The Basslers bought their two-story house with white siding and a brick facade on Fairway Drive in March 2020. Mark, a firefighter from Belleville, was to live in the city, and the couple wanted their children to attend school in the Mascoutah neighborhood, where Jennifer teaches.
“Before we even submitted our request for approval (for installing solar panels), we spoke to all of our surrounding neighbors, including the two on either side and the three across the street, and they all agreed with that. Jennifer Bassler said.
Projects require approval
Orchards Subdivision rules require that home improvement projects affecting exteriors and courtyards, including solar systems, be approved by the homeowners association, according to the lawsuit.
He argues that the association is not trying to prevent the Basslers from using solar panels on the roof, only those located in the front of their house, facing east.
“(The Homeowners’ Energy Policy Statement Act) allows an HOA to determine the specific location where a solar power system can be installed on the roof in a southerly orientation or less than 45 degrees east or to the south west provided that the determination does not interfere with the efficient operation of the solar energy system, ”the lawsuit said.
Paul McKnight, owner of EFS Energy in Saint-Louis, who installed the Basslers system in early December, filed an affidavit in support of his motion to dismiss.
Solar panels are best placed on south-facing rooftops in the northern hemisphere, as the sun is always along the southern part of the sky, but they can operate from both east and west sides, according to the affidavit.
The Basslers system, which includes 23 solar panels on the roof in the back (west) and 12 in the front (east), is designed to produce enough electricity to meet 100% of their energy needs.
“If the Basslers can only install panels on the back roof of their house, the efficiency of their solar power system will drop by about 35%,” McKnight wrote. “Not only because there are fewer panels, but also because the remaining panels on the west-facing rear roof will only be exposed to direct sunlight for half the day. “
McKnight also wrote that the Orchards Homeowners Association’s solar energy policy could prevent “many” houses in the subdivision from being solar powered due to rooftop space, blocked trees or blackouts. angles towards the sun.
In the Basslers’ defeat motion, they argued the association improperly enacted its subdivision restrictions and selectively enforced its solar energy policy, allowing some residents to place panels and equipment solar panels on the sides of the houses, visible from the street.
The Basslers spent about $ 40,000 on their solar power system, according to Jennifer Bassler. They expect to recoup all but $ 12,000 through grants, rebates and other government incentives.
Jennifer Bassler described the solar panels as barely noticeable from the street or other homes in the neighborhood.
“Since we installed the panels and the system started working right after Christmas, we haven’t had any use of electricity, even in winter,” she said. “Our signs ended up doing better than we thought. “