Lincoln Lawyer: Is the sun still shining on solar panels?

— Angela Ingall is a Licensed Conveyancer in the residential property department at McKinnells Solicitors in Lincoln.

Despite the government’s recent reduction in the feed-in tariff, solar panels are still being installed on the roofs of private homes at an ever-increasing rate.

Most streets will now have a house with them on. While the move to green energy is to be encouraged, homeowners should make the decision to have these panels installed with eyes wide open and in full knowledge of the legal implications.

Before they are installed, it would be wise to check the house structure is up to the job. Once the panels are in place, will they cause problems with the roof support? If they do, the remedial cost is likely to fall on you.

Unless your house is in a conservation area or is listed, you won’t need planning permission. You will, though, need building regulation approval. If you have the panels fitted without it, you could face action from your local authority.

If you have a mortgage, you will need the prior consent of your mortgage lender. Without it, you will be in breach of your mortgage and the lender could pull the plug on the loan and require you to pay it back.

A common arrangement is that the homeowner grants a lease, typically for 25 years, to a company to install the panels on the roof. These leases do not have a break clause, that is, the homeowner has no power to end them earlier so the panels will be on the roof for the whole 25 years.

One effect is that if the homeowner wants to sell the house within the 25-year period, he or she can only sell to someone willing to buy the house with the panels in place. That may not be too much of a problem, though it does limit the potential market for the house.

But what about a few years down the line when solar panel technology has moved on, as it inevitably will? A comparison is with mobile phones. 25 years ago, they were the size of a house brick with limited range.

Imagine in a few years time having the solar panel equivalent of a 1980s mobile phone on your roof. It may well make selling your house very difficult, as well as tying you in to what by then is likely to be an inefficient system.

You should also consider who is responsible for the maintenance of the panels. If it is you as the homeowner there will be an as yet unknown cost, which is likely to increase over time.

If the company who supplied them, they are likely to want access rights 24/7. Are you willing and able to let them have this?

So, if you are thinking of going green, get some legal advice first, otherwise you could be left feeling blue and in the red instead.