An increasing number of homeowners are receiving an unhappy surprise, a lien placed on their home by solar power companies they allowed to place solar panels on their homes in exchange for signing a long-term, typically 20 year, lease to purchase the power produced.
The solar companies, promise lower electric bills. Yet, all too often homeowners electric bills actually increase, their homes are damaged during the installation process, or the installations don’t meet city codes and have to be redone at additional costs.
Homeowners Face Liens
Now a new specter is rising to haunt homeowners, solar companies are placing liens on homes with solar installations, making it difficult for the owners to get loans, refinance or sell their homes.
An April 15, Watchdog.org by Tori Richards, highlights the trials and travails of homeowners contracting with SolarCity, a company founded by billionaire Elon Musk, for solar power from panels placed on their homes.
One homeowner, Jeff Leeds, agreed to allow the company to install solar panels on this home in exchange for a 20-year lease. According to the article, Leeds claims it was the sorriest day in his life, “like partnering with the devil.” Watchdog reports, Leeds “has endured skyrocketing electric bills, installation of an inferior system and contract violations because SolarCity refuses to clean the panels or to provide a payment for his system’s poor performance.”
Recently, Leeds got a new surprise, “a notice from his bank telling him that SolarCity had placed a lien on his home, and that his equity line of credit application could not proceed until the lien was removed.”
Leed’s experience is not unique. One California banker, granted anonymity by Watchdog because she was not authorized to speak publicly on the topic, says she encounters enraged homeowners facing scenarios similar to Leeds five to 10 times a day. “‘This is my nightmare for 2015,’ the banker said. ‘(Homeowners) have no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into. (Fixture filings) are definitely liens.'”
James Taylor, senior fellow in energy and the environment with The Heartland Institute, publisher of the Heartlander, was unsurprised to learn solar company business practices were not above board. Taylor said, “the solar power industry is one of the worst actors in American business and politics. Federal taxpayers are forced to pay 30 percent of the costs for virtually all solar power projects, yet the solar power returns nothing back to taxpayers.”
“Putting liens on people’s houses and hiding predatory clauses in the fine print of solar power contracts are just a small sample of the solar power industry’s unethical behavior,” said Taylor. “The time has come for government to stop bestowing special favors on this corrupt industry.”
Lawmakers Take Notice
With the number of complaints mounting, lawmakers are getting involved.
Arizona state Sen. Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria) co-authored a law increasing the transparency of solar contracts in Arizona. Beginning January 1, lease contracts for rooftop solar panels must disclose the total price to be paid over the life of the contract, including interest; any restrictions, including liens, or impacts the buyer may face in transferring or modifying the property or loans related to it and allow the homeowner the right to cancel the contract for up to three business days after signing.
Lesko acted after being inundated with constituent complaints concerning solar contract problems including a letter from one couple in their 80’s who found themselves unable to sell their home due to a solar-panel lease.
Right up until the Arizona’s governor signed the bill into law, Watchdog reports, SolarCity and another solar contractor, Sunrun, fought the bill, hiring lobbyists who flooded lawmakers offices with meeting requests and press releases.
Richards also notes the United States Congress has also taken notice of complaints about the roof-top solar industry’s business practices. Letters sent by 12 Republicans to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and four Democrats to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau asked these agencies to investigate concerns solar rooftop “leases are not offered in good faith or with accurate disclosures.”
U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz faced tough questioning at a Feb. 12 Capitol Hill hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, where questionable solar power business practices were discussed. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), asked Moniz, “After entering into these long-term agreements, a lot are in for a surprise when they realize they have to pay off a lien put on their house. What role, if any, can or does DOE plan to play in ensuring these companies who access federal tax incentives in particular … aren’t misrepresenting what they are doing to their customers?”
Moniz admitted he was unaware of the problem of liens, but assured the Senator he would look into it.
H. Sterling Burnett ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
Tori Richards, “Surprised solar customers find themselves with liens,” Watchdog.org, 4/15/15; https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/surprised-solar-customers-find-themselves-liens
Paul Gosar (R-AZ), et. al, Republican Letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez concerning roof-top solar business practices, 12/12/14, https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/republican-letter-ftc-chairwoman-edith-ramirez-concerning-roof-top-solar-business-p
Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), et. al, Democrat letter to Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, 11/19/14; https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/democrat-letter-richard-cordray-director-consumer-finance-protection-bureau