While many people believe that exterior modifications in a common interest community must be pre-approved by the board of trustees, federal law allows for certain satellite dish antennas to be installed on exclusive use areas without pre-approval (Over the Air Reception Devices, (OTARD), 47 C.F.R. Section 1.4000).  Additionally, United States flags and certain signs of troop support (such as yellow ribbons) may be displayed as long as there is no threat to public safety, necessary maintenance activities can be performed, and the property rights of others are not impaired (Planned Real Estate Development Full Disclosure Act (PREDFDA), N.J.S.A. 45:22A-48.1 This New Jersey law also states that flags can be prohibited if they are displayed in a manner inconsistent with the federal flag Code or other laws or guidelines).  

A third exception to the pre-approval statute is a New Jersey law, effective August 2007, which prohibits a common interest community association from adopting or enforcing any “restriction, covenant, bylaw, rule or regulation prohibiting the installation of solar collectors on certain roofs of dwelling units” (PREDFDA, N.J.S.A. 45:22A-48.2).   The law only applies to the roofs of single family dwelling units which are not designated common elements and the roofs of certain types of townhouse units where repair is unit owner’s responsibility.  Associations still under developer control are exempt from the law.

While an association may not prohibit the installation of solar collectors on such roofs, it may adopt rules to regulate their installation and maintenance.  However, an association is limited in its ability to monitor installation to the following  the following details: 

  1. The qualifications, certification and insurance requirements of personnel or contractors who may install the solar collectors;
  2. The location where solar collectors may be placed on roofs;
  3. The concealment of solar collectors’ supportive structures, fixtures and piping; 
  4. The color harmonization of solar collectors with the colors of structures or landscaping in the development; and
  5. The aggregate size or coverage or total number of solar collectors. 

Lest an association attempt to indirectly prevent solar collectors by strict rules, the law clearly prohibits rules which or “increase the solar collectors’ installation or maintenance costs by an amount which is estimated to be greater than ten percent of the total cost of the initial installation of the solar collectors, including the costs of labor and equipment.”  Additionally, none of the rules regulating installation and maintenance of a solar collector on the roofs may inhibit the solar collectors from functioning at their “intended maximum efficiency.”  

Not all unit owners may be entitled under this law to install solar collectors.  While the law limits rules restricting where installations are permitted, an association can and should implement policies for solar collector installation and maintenance. Consulting with the association’s legal counsel is necessary to ensure that policies conform to the law.  No matter where you stand on solar collectors, having policies in place will help ensure that your community maintains consistent aesthetic standards.