HOA dropped solar panel lawsuits after Belleville couple spent thousands fighting it

A Belleville couple won a court victory when their homeowners association dropped a lawsuit against them for installing rooftop solar panels on the front and back of their home.

But Mark Bassler said he and his wife, Jennifer, had “mixed feelings”.

The couple recently learned that The Orchards Homeowners Association (HOA) last month asked to dismiss a 2020 civil case in St. Clair County Circuit Court “with prejudice,” meaning they could file a another complaint in the future. The motion did not give a reason.

“We’re glad the stress is gone, even though they may sue us for the way they dismissed it,” said Mark Bassler, 40, a former Belleville firefighter and father of two. 2 and 7 years old.

“But their policy was illegal, and there was no reason for them to drop (the lawsuit) at that time, unless they knew they were going to lose and they had to pay our costs. legal.”

Those fees total $53,000, Mark Bassler said.

The Orchards is a subdivision with an 18-hole golf course off Green Mount Road in Belleville. His HOA has a volunteer three-member board of directors that approves or rejects improvement projects affecting home exteriors and yards.

Association attorney Mike Wagner of Clayborne & Wagner in Belleville did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit this week.

Natalie Stinson of Pinnacle HOA Management, which managed The Orchards HOA for most of the litigation, declined to comment. She referred Community Property Management questions to O’Fallon, who took over day-to-day management of the HOA several months ago. His manager could not immediately be reached.

In this 2021 file photo, Jennifer and Mark Bassler are shown outside their home on Fairway Drive in Belleville. The Orchards Homeowners Association recently filed for dismissal of a lawsuit regarding their solar panels.

Almost two years of litigation

The Orchards HOA filed a lawsuit in December 2020. It argued the Basslers violated subdivision rules that allow solar panels only on rear-facing roofs for aesthetic reasons and sued the installation after the council rejected their plan.

“(The Illinois Homeowners’ Energy Police Statement Act) allows an HOA to determine the specific location where a rooftop solar power system may be installed in a southerly orientation or less than 45 degrees east or west of the south provided the determination does not impair the efficient operation of the solar power system,” the complaint stated.

The Basslers argued that the 2011 law protected their right to place solar panels wherever they were needed to be fully efficient, saving them money on electricity costs and helping the environment.

Peoria attorney John Albers, a solar specialist, originally represented the couple. After leaving his practice for another job, the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center in St. Louis took over in January 2022.

The nonprofit center provides free legal services to individuals and organizations seeking to protect the environment and public health, according to attorney Bruce Morrison.

Morrison called The Orchards HOA’s motion to deny last month “bittersweet.”

“Our board of directors decided that we would take up the case and represent the Basslers in an effort to set a precedent in Illinois that the HOA was unlawfully obstructing the installation of a solar system,” he said. declared. “So as a legal center, we’re disappointed that we’re not banging our heads there.”

The Orchards HOA was the first homeowners association in Illinois to sue residents for solar panels, according to Albers.

This photo shows solar panels on the roof of the Bassler house at The Orchards in Belleville, seen from the street.  The homeowners association argued that they violated subdivision rules.

This photo shows solar panels on the roof of the Bassler house at The Orchards in Belleville, seen from the street. The homeowners association argued that they violated subdivision rules.

100% of the electricity produced

The Basslers purchased their two-story home with white siding and a brick facade on Fairway Drive in March 2020. Mark, then a Belleville firefighter, had to live in the city due to department residency requirements, and the couple wanted that their children attend Mascoutah District School, where Jennifer teaches.

Orchards do the trick.

EFS Energy in St. Louis installed the Basslers solar system in December 2020. It consists of 23 rooftop solar panels in the back (west) and 12 in the front (east).

EFS owner Paul McKnight submitted an affidavit supporting the couple’s motion to dismiss The Orchards HOA lawsuit in 2021. St. Clair County Circuit Court Associate Judge Julie Katz dismissed the query.

“If the Basslers can only install panels on the back roof of their home, the efficiency of their solar power system will drop by about 35%,” McKnight wrote in his affidavit.

The Basslers spent about $40,000 to purchase and install the solar system and recouped all but about $15,000 through grants, rebates and other government incentives, according to Mark Bassler.

Solar panels now provide 100% of their electricity, he said. The only cost is a monthly meter fee of $12.

The Basslers try to figure out how to deal with their $53,000 debt to the Peoria law firm that first represented them. Mark Bassler was fired as a Belleville firefighter in May. He said he has not returned to work since a work-related back injury in February 2021 that required multiple surgeries and other medical attention that depleted the couple’s savings.

“People have come up to us and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you start a GoFundMe? ‘” Mark Bassler said. “I struggled with health and the solar lawsuit, and we don’t have the $53,000. But my wife and I think there are people in the world who are worse off than us.

“We are hard working people. We are honest people. We are neighbors and we want to help our neighborhood. That’s why we didn’t sue (the HOA). We didn’t want to waste the neighborhood’s money.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that a new company, Community Property Management, has taken over management of The Orchards HOA.

Comments are closed.