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Can a Michigan Condominium Ban Solar Panels?

Approximately 25 states have adopted some form of a solar access statute that makes it illegal for condominium bylaws to contain a provision that completely bans the installation of solar panels. There are approximately 15 different states that have adopted solar easement statutes that uphold the validity of contractual easements for solar access. A full list of states that have adopted solar access statutes and solar easements can be found here. However, Michigan is one of the few states that has not adopted a solar access statute or a solar easement statute.

The Michigan Condominium Act determines whether the condominium bylaws can contain a provision that would ban solar panels. MCL 559.156 governs the provisions that can be contained in condominium bylaws and provides in pertinent part:

The bylaws may contain provisions:
(a) As are deemed appropriate for the administration of the condominium project not inconsistent with this act or any other applicable laws.
(b) For restrictions on the sale, lease, license to use, or occupancy of condominium units.
(c) For insuring the co-owners against risks affecting the condominium project, without prejudice to the right of each co-owner to insure his condominium unit or condominium units on his own account and for his own benefit. (emphasis added).

MCL 559.165 further provides that:

Each unit co-owner, tenant, or nonco-owner occupant shall comply with the master deed, bylaws, and rules and regulations of the condominium project and this act.

Accordingly, there is nothing in the Michigan Condominium Act that precludes a developer or condominium association from adopting condominium bylaws that would ban the installation of solar panels. While there has not been a Michigan case that has yet to expressly decide this issue, in an analogous situation, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that it was reasonable for a condominium association to enforce aesthetic restrictions. Specifically, the Michigan Court of Appeals stead that:

Every man may justly consider his home his castle and himself as the king thereof; nevertheless his sovereign fiat to use his property as he pleases must yield, at least in degree, where ownership is in common or cooperation with others. The benefits of condominium living and ownership demand no less. The individual ought not to be permitted to disrupt the integrity of the common scheme through his desire for change, however laudable that change might be.

Cohan v Riverside Park Place Condo Ass’n, Inc, 123 Mich App 743, 748; 333 NW2d 574, 576 (1983).
Moreover, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that:

[I]nherent in the condominium concept is the principle that to promote the health, happiness, and peace of mind of the majority of the unit owners since they are living in such close proximity and using facilities in common, each unit owner must give up a certain degree of freedom of choice which he might otherwise enjoy in separate, privately owned property. Condominium unit owners comprise a little democratic subsociety of necessity more restrictive as it pertains to use of condominium property than may exist outside of the condominium organization. The Declaration of Condominium involved herein is replete with examples of the curtailment of individual rights usually associated with private ownership of property.

Id. at 749.
Accordingly, it is likely that a Michigan court would uphold a ban on solar panels that is contained in the condominium bylaws based on the current state of the law. However, condominium associations and co-owners should be aware that the condominium bylaws may provide a condominium association board with discretion to approve solar panels as an addition to a common element or unit under MCL 559.147. If such discretion is provided, we have drafted a guide for items that should be analyzed in considering such a request that can be found here.

Kevin Hirzel is the Managing Member of Hirzel Law, PLC and concentrates his practice on commercial litigation, community association law, condominium law, Fair Housing Act compliance, homeowners association and real estate law. Mr. Hirzel is a fellow in the College of Community Association Lawyers, a prestigious designation given to less than 175 attorneys in the country. He has been a Michigan Super Lawyer’s Rising Star in Real Estate Law from 2013-2018, an award given to only 2.5% of the attorneys in Michigan each year. Mr. Hirzel was named an Up & Coming Lawyer by Michigan Lawyer’s Weekly in 2015, an award given to only 30 attorneys in Michigan each year. He represents community associations, condominium associations, cooperatives, homeowners associations, property owners and property managers throughout Michigan. He may be reached at (248) 480-8758 or kevin@hirzellaw.com.

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kevin@hirzellaw.com

Kevin Hirzel is the Managing Member of Hirzel Law, PLC. Hirzel Law has offices in Farmington, Grand Rapids, and Traverse City, Michigan with a fourth office location in Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Hirzel focuses his practice on condominium law, homeowners association law, and real estate law. He is a fellow in the College of Community Association Lawyers (“CCAL”), a prestigious designation given to less than 175 attorneys in the country. Mr. Hirzel formerly served on the CCAL National Board of Governors and is a former member of the Community Associations Institute’s (“CAI”) Board of Trustees, an international organization with over 40,000 members worldwide that is dedicated to improving community associations. Mr. Hirzel has been recognized as a Leading Lawyer in Michigan by Leading Lawyers, a distinction earned by fewer than 5% of all lawyers licensed in Michigan. He has been named a Michigan “Rising Star” in real estate law by Super Lawyers Magazine, a designation is given to no more than 2.5% of the attorneys in Michigan each year. Mr. Hirzel was also named as a “Go-To-Lawyer” in condominium and real estate law by Michigan Lawyer’s Weekly. Hirzel Law was also voted the best law firm in Metro Detroit in the Detroit Free Press Best of the Best awards. He is the Co-Chairman of the State Bar of Michigan’s Real Property Law Section Committee for Condominiums, PUDs & Cooperatives. Mr. Hirzel has authored numerous articles on community association law for publications such as the Michigan Community Association News, Michigan Real Property Review, Macomb County Bar Briefs and the Washington Post. He is also the author of “Hirzel’s Handbook: How to operate a Michigan Condo or HOA”, which is available for purchase on amazon.com. Mr. Hirzel has been interviewed on community association legal issues by various media outlets throughout the country, such as CBS, CNBC, Common Ground Magazine, Community Association Management Insider, the Dan Abrams Show on SiriusXM Radio, the Detroit News, Dr. Drew Midday Live on KABC Radio, Fox Business News, Fox News, HOALeader.com, the Law & Crime Network, Michigan Lawyer’s Weekly, NPR, WWJ News Radio and WXYZ. Mr. Hirzel is a dynamic speaker and frequently lectures on community association law throughout Michigan, as well as nationally at the CAI National Law Seminar, and is a two-time winner of the best manuscript award at the CAI National Law Seminar.

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