Pictured: Solar panels owned by the homeowners in this Deckside Villa condominium. Photo submitted. 

by Kimberly Rivers
kimberly@vcreporter.com

In the past month residents and neighbors of communities governed by Home Owners Associations are dealing with issues related to tree cutting during nesting season and forced removal of solar panels. 

The boards of HOAs are elected by the homeowners but stories of them running a bit outside the lines are common. Here are two current cases, one where an HOA responded to concerns brought forward by residents, and another that is ongoing and raising questions. 

Residents rally to protect nests

Last month, residents in a neighborhood near Channel Islands Harbor got involved in helping to ensure nesting birds would be protected when the HOA board voted to remove over a dozen old trees. 

Janice McCarthy lives across the street from the Hueneme Pier in Port Hueneme-Surfside IV Condo Complex, and while she says most neighbors are OK with the older trees being removed, “we are concerned about the timing,” she said via email to the Ventura County Reporter. “We are in the middle of nesting season.” 

State law prohibits the disturbance or destruction of any active nests — for any species of bird. Active nests are defined as containing eggs or baby birds. Waivers can be granted in the event that a tree is posing a danger to people or property.

When McCarthy learned of the plans to remove the trees, she reached out to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, the California Fish and Wildlife Department and the Ventura County Resource management Agency. She also contacted the local Ventura Audubon Society. 

“They are supportive, helpful and concerned,” she said. “The city of Port Hueneme has declined to get involved and the board is still moving forward” with the tree removal as of May 24. But she said homeowners were getting involved. 

McCarthy was surprised at the city’s response and noted that she recently saw tree trimming at a theater venue property in her neighborhood. 

“I happened to see tree trimming at the theater venue next door to where I live while walking my dog at the beach a few days ago,” she said.  “I saw birds freaking out and flying around the tree being trimmed as if there were nests in the tree.” 

 Just a few days later, McCarthy had good news. On May 27, she said that “we were able to come to a resolution with our board to provide a report of an arborist’s examination of the trees to be removed.” She said the report assured her and “most of the homeowners” that the trees did not contain active nests. She notes, however, that there may be some hard feelings between the residents and HOA board members. 

Solar panels removed, homeowner being fined, legal action underway

On May 18, Heather and Brenden Wing received a letter from the HOA board for the Deckside Villas in Oxnard notifying them that they were being fined $100 a day for failing to get proper approval for the installation of the solar panels on their condominium, even after the panels were removed on May 21.

In a note to the Wings, dated May 11, 2021, Deckside HOA attorney David Swedelson stated, “The Board and other owners do not want to look at the panels if they do not have to and they do not have to as the panels should have been installed over the flat roof.” 

But state law prohibits a HOA from prohibiting and/or restricting the installation of solar panels in a way that would reduce their efficiency. 

Swedelson did not immediately respond to inquiries. 

California law regarding HOAs and solar panels states, “any covenant, restriction, or condition… that effectively prohibits or restricts the installation or use of a solar energy system is void and unenforceable.” (California Solar Rights Act, Civil Code Sect. 714)

Heather Wing says the flat portion of the roof only has room for three panels. They were installing 16. “Which is an 80% reduction in efficiency, violating the law. The HOA can request modification of no more than 10% reduction in efficiency of the system.”

“We have nothing against solar panels,” said Ron Wiesner, president of the HOA board at Deckside, speaking to the Ventura County Reporter on June 1. Weisner is a local real estate agent and according to home sales records online has represented both buyers and sellers of properties in the Deckside Villas community. 

Wiesner said the Wings did not follow the “proper” procedure for getting permission to put the solar panels on their home. He explained the process includes completing the required Architectural Modification application. 

In an email exchange with the subject line “Architectural Request” dated Oct. 23, 2020, obtained by the VCReporter, the Wings were sent two documents from Ruth Cederstrom, certified community association manager with Concord Consulting and Association Services, which manages and conducts administrative tasks for the Deckside HOA. 

One of the documents is titled “3666 Solar Conditionally Approved” and is the Deckside Villas Homeowners Association Architectural Modification form, which was filled out by the Wests seeking permission to install solar panels and is dated Sept. 24, 2020. That form includes a note dated Oct. 20, 2020, from HOA Board Vice President Stephanie Alex; on a line item titled “disapproval,” it reads “see letter attached.” 

This letter, the second attachment dated Oct. 23, 2020, is titled “3666 Preliminary deny but conditions.” The letter acknowledges the receipt of the Architectural Modification form, but states the request to put solar panels is “preliminarily denied” but will be “reconsidered” when additional information is received. 

The information requested included the size of the panels, whether they will be on the flat portion of the roof, and it requires the signature of two adjoining neighbors. The HOA was also requiring the Wings to sign a “maintenance covenant” for the panels. 

“We are a duplex, we just needed the one neighbor’s signature,” said Wing. “They had all the documents, city permit, shade reports…the issue with the maintenance covenant is that it doesn’t comply with California law, it states they can charge me their attorney’s fees with no cap.” The covenant also has to be approved by all HOA members, and West said, “they won’t do that.” 

The Wings sent the one signature from the neighbor, and received an email confirmation that the application was received. 

When asked about the Conditional Approval document, Wiesner declined to comment further and referred questions to Swedelson. 

The solar panels were installed on Nov. 13, 2020. Jerry Ramirez, an inspector with the city of Oxnard, checked the system and found it was installed properly and met all requirements. 

On the day of installation, Wing said members of the HOA board came and photographed and videotaped the installation and she felt they were harassing her. Ultimately Wing was notified that they were being fined for the solar panel installation. 

“We had the panels removed by the installer last week and the HOA is still fining us,” said Wing. The panels were removed on May 21, 2021. Total fines levied against the Wests so far are over $800, all assessed after the panels were removed. 

Wiesner said removing the panels could resolve the fines unless there was other damage to the roof which the “association would be responsible” for fixing. 

The dispute between the Wings and the Deckside HOA is ongoing. 

Correction after print deadline: The article previously included an incorrect last name for Heather and Brendan Wing, it has been corrected. 

California Fish and Game Code relating to disturbing active nests: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=FGC&sectionNum=3503.

California Solar Rights Act; Civil Code Sect. 714: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=714.&lawCode=CIV