Sarpy County homeowners fighting subdivision over solar panels

A Sarpy County home is at risk of losing its solar panels if the declarant of a covenant has his way.
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 6:44 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The subdivision near 36th and Capehart in Sarpy County is called Liberty -- but John and Kelly Bowling are shocked to be notified they weren’t free to install solar panels, and theirs must come down.

“The reason I don’t think it’s fair, it’s not that much of an eyesore,” John said. “It’s not detracting from the look and appeal. You can barely notice it from the street.”

The neighborhood doesn’t have an elected HOA yet, so Liberty land-enforces covenants -- and above-ground pools, sheds and solar panels are prohibited. The Bowlings have until June 1 to remove their panels or face legal action.

“And this is a new development, and I’m just guessing there’s going to be more people that are going to want to put up solar panels,” Kelly said.

Debbie Roberts, who lives up the street, says the solar panels don’t reflect badly on the neighborhood.

“I think that’s a very earth-while thing to do, and if I had the money, I’d also buy an electric car, and I’d probably buy panels myself,” Roberts said.

Developer Denny Van Moorleghem makes the call on covenant violations, and says he sent a removal notice for a shed up the street -- but a neighbor also complained about solar panels, and not just on one house.

A neighbor across the street from the Bowlings received a similar letter, telling them they need to remove their solar panels. But that demand has been taken to court.

A trial date has not been set, though the neighbors’ attorney claims his clients hadn’t been properly informed of the covenants. The Bowlings have the same argument.

“There’s nothing I ever remember signing that we were presented as far as ‘You have to abide by these rules,’” John said.

The developer says at closing, the title company provides a home buyer covenant -- usually in an email link they should’ve read. The declarant, as the covenant enforcer is called, says it’s unfortunate to demand the removal of solar panels, but he can’t make any exceptions, or more will follow.

“We should draw a line delineating those from sheds, pools, and things like that,” said State Sen. George Dungan of Lincoln.

Dungan introduced a bill in the Legislature that, if passed, would block a homeowners association from enforcing covenants that ban solar energy panels in a neighborhood.

“From the analysis I’ve done, solar panels increase property values on a regular basis, so I don’t see any good reason to prohibit solar panels,” Dungan said.

The bill is in committee, and chances of a vote this session are fading, so like their neighbors, the Bowlings face a possible legal fight to keep their solar panels.

Hoping to save $80 a month on electricity, the Bowlings may have to spend thousands to remove their panels -- but they want to energize the debate over HOA covenants that ban home solar systems.

The developer tells 6 On Your Side the June 1 deadline can be pushed back with a written promise from the homeowners that the panels will be removed in a reasonable time. He says signs will be installed at entrances to the subdivision, reminding homeowners to check covenants before making additions to their property.