My neighbor wants me to give him a solar easement. Should I?

How to protect yourself when helping your neighbor make use of solar energy resource.

Question

My neighbor is interested in buying huge solar panels to stick on his roof. Before he does this, he wants me to grant him a solar easement – essentially a promise that I’ll never block the sunlight that hits those panels. Should I give him an easement?

Answer

As a homeowner, you’re certainly justified in being skeptical about granting an easement. Easements are more than just “promises”; they’re not temporary or revocable. They are recorded on property records and, in some circumstances, can lower the value of your home since you're limiting what a potential purchaser can do with the property.

Your neighbor is asking you to give up property rights – you wouldn't be permitted to build a fence of a certain height, or plant certain types of trees, or do anything on your property that might cast a shadow over his panels. Moreover, depending on the terms of the easement, it could require you to remove existing fencing or tree branches, if those get in the way of your neighbor’s panels.

None of this should be given away for free. First, to the extent that you’re interested at all, you should negotiate with your neighbor to make the easement as narrow as possible. In other words, you don’t necessarily need to refrain from building or planting anywhere on your property – just in the specific spots that would cast a shadow on his solar panels at peak hours. You should work with your neighbor to figure out exactly what those angles and heights are, in order to limit the scope of whatever easement you might be willing to convey.

Next, think about what you might want in exchange for this easement. This could be a simple cash payment, or a payment over a period of time. You might also consider a more creative approach to your compensation. Remember, the purpose of your neighbor’s panels is to save energy costs by generating solar power. Perhaps you should negotiate for a percentage of his savings for a certain number of months or years. The calculation could be as simple or complex as you desire, but there might be an opportunity to work together to align your incentives; the more money he saves, the more money you make. With an arrangement like this, you aren't giving up your property rights for nothing.

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