Solar panels on flats – what you need to know

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Could solar panels work for you?

Following on from last week’s tips for greener homes, today we’re taking a closer look at fitting solar panels on blocks of flats.

At first glance, there are plenty of plus points. You get cheap electricity; you can sell any energy you don’t need back to the grid and of course, there’s that nice warm feeling you get when you know you’re doing your bit. In some cases, government subsidies may even be available to help with the set-up costs. But as we pointed out in our earlier blog, installation may not be straightforward. Here’s why.

If you manage a block that is interested in installing solar panels, there are some issues to be thought through first. Obviously, the roof needs to be suitable. Which way does it face? Is it large enough to house the panels? And of course, you will need planning permission.

Then there are the all-important legal aspects to think about. As ever with flats, the starting point is the lease. Who is legally responsible for the roof and who pays for the installation? The view from property lawyers is that solar panels are likely to be considered “improvements” rather than “repairs” under the lease. While repairs can normally be recovered via the service charge, there is no guarantee that improvements will be treated in the same way. So unless the lease includes specific wording to this effect, the service charge can’t pick up the bill.

Lee Hurle from Ringley Law says that if this turns out to be the case, the cost will have to be funded outside of the service charge mechanism. Flat owners will have to volunteer to pay their share as they are not legally obliged to pay it and not everyone may agree to do this. So blocks would probably have to structure the cost as a loan to the company.

 Other issues that will need some thought are:

  • Panel maintenance – again, who is responsible and who pays?
  • Panel infrastructure – does the lease allow for running cables through the block/s?

At last, you’ve overcome all these hurdles. The panels are fitted and they are producing surplus electricity and a financial return for the block. But what happens to the money? Don’t automatically assume that this can simply be put into the reserve fund – if one exists. The lease may or may not allow for a reserve fund and even if it does, it may not be possible to use it for the proceeds of the solar installation. Back to Lee. He thinks the block may have to hold any funds received on behalf of the company as company funds instead.

So if you live in a flat, opting for solar may not be plain sailing although the potential benefits mean it is worth consideration. Why not raise the idea with your fellow residents? But before you go ahead and choose a supplier, remember that solar companies are unlikely to have a detailed knowledge of any lease restrictions that could apply to your block. So if you need help getting to grips with your lease, talk to our legal experts at RingleyLaw. They have years of experience and will be able to offer you the advice you need.