September 25, 2009

New Laws Regarding Solar Energy Panels, Adult Family Homes, and Reserve Studies

Three bills that directly affect Washington condominium or homeowners associations were signed into law during the last legislative session. The first two new laws limit homeowners associations’ ability to interfere if owners want to install solar energy panels on their property or use their property as an adult family home. The third new law allows small condominium associations to exempt themselves from the legal requirement to obtain a reserve study if they fulfill certain conditions.

Senate Bill 5136 states that homeowners associations’ governing documents may not prohibit the installation of solar energy panels on an owner’s property unless the panels do not comply with applicable safety and performance standards. This law does not apply to common areas. Homeowners associations’ governing documents may impose reasonable restrictions on the placement and appearance of solar energy panels. For example, governing documents can require solar energy panels to not be visible above roof lines and require portions of the equipment to be painted to coordinate with the roofing material.

House Bill 1935 states that homeowners associations’ governing documents may not limit the use and operation of “adult family homes” on the property. An adult family home is a residential home in which one or more individuals care for two to six adults who are not related by blood or marriage to the individuals providing the services. Homeowners associations are permitted to enforce reasonable nondiscriminatory regulations (such as general landscaping and sign standards) to adult family homes as long as those regulations apply to the rest of the residential property as well.

Senate Bill 5461 states that a condominium association with ten or fewer unit owners is not required to follow the reserve study requirements that went into effect last year if two-thirds of the owners agree to exempt the association from those requirements. The owners must agree to maintain that exemption by a two-thirds vote every three years. The condominium association must include the required disclosure that it does not have a reserve study in resale certificates if it opts for the exemption.