Solar For Strata Properties: 3 Easy Steps

Solar power for strata homes

Do you own a strata property and want solar power?

Then you’ve probably hit a giant roadblock: although you own the property, you probably don’t own the roof. And that’s a problem if you want to put panels on some of that roof.

Well, I have some good news for strata property owners. Installing solar on that shared roof could be easier than you think.

This is the story of one such strata property owner who got off his proverbial fence and did it himself. Scott Watkins has walked the walk and kindly offered to share his solar strata experience with anyone who cares to listen.

He’s even gone a step further – a giant step. The custom, expensive legal document (Common Property Licence Agreement) that Scott paid a lawyer to draft and made it all possible is available free to use right at the end of this post, no strings attached. That’s not a typo. Scott is too good for this world.

This is a case study of sorts that relates to his particular solar installation. The nature of strata properties, in general, being so varied means that your own particular journey, if you choose to start it, may be quite different from Scott’s. This is not a ‘how-to’ guide on every possible scenario that you’re likely to encounter, but a good start.

Jump in. Here we go.

The Strata Complex

Scott’s strata was originally an old pub in South Melbourne that has since been redeveloped. Now a small mixed residential and commercial strata complex, it encompasses a commercial premises (a shop) on the ground floor with three residential units above with adjoining walls.

The roof (or roofs) on which the solar panels now sit are physically on top of Scott’s residential unit but legally owned by the strata body. There are no common areas.

Step 1 – Talk To All Stakeholders

Scott approached the owners of the other units before he purchased his own and got their thoughts on his plan to install a solar power system if he bought the unit. The two owners of the other residential units were no obstacle. They weren’t, however, interested in being part of, or getting, a system themselves.

The property agent for the commercial premises was a harder nut to crack. There didn’t seem to be a lot of goodwill shown on his behalf. Maybe the agent had other priorities or was having a bad day.

The strata body agent was also consulted and took quite a bit of persuasion to come to the party. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the agent worked for the owners, not the other way around. Anyway, it all ended well. Read on.

Scott also needed a tick from the local council. Their only issue was the heritage overlay in place with that particular building. No problem. They were happy as long as the solar panels weren’t visible from the street. Tick.

The other important stakeholder, of course, was the solar installation company. It would have been a waste of time jumping through the hoops above if the job wasn’t technically feasible for the particular property. Another tick. More on that further in the article.

Step 2 – Legal Stuff

Fortunately, as a sign of the times, another potential barrier to your solar dream has been removed if you live in Victoria. ‘The Owners Corporation Act 2006’ was amended in 2021 to read:

“An owners corporation must not make rules that unreasonably prohibit the installation of sustainability items on the exterior of a lot.”

In Scott’s case, this wasn’t relevant because his system was installed prior to 2021. All he needed was a special resolution passed by the strata body that required at least 75% of the members to vote yes and no more than 25% of members to vote no. This percentage may be different in your state, so check first.

Anyway, he got 75%. His kind neighbours were all for it, and the agent of the commercial premises voted no. The outcome wouldn’t have affected the agent either way, so karma will hopefully bite him on the arse.

Now The Big One

A contract needed to be drawn up so Scott could lease the roof for his solar panels from the strata corporation. If you’ve read this far, it might be your lucky day because he’s about to share this precious document with you for free!

He had a lawyer draw up the four-figure, twenty-page Common Property Licence Agreement, which allowed him to lease the roof for ninety-nine years for the grand total of one dollar per year.

I bet he rushed that contract out the door before the ink had dried and got it signed by everyone! A couple of bottles of champagne bubbly may have been popped that night.

The document clearly sets out all parties’ legal rights and gives future owners a safety net if Scott decides to sell further down the track. The lawyer also helped the strata body agent prepare the special resolution mentioned above for the vote that allowed the process to go ahead.

Step 3 – The Solar Install

The solar company Scott hired to do the job was, from a technical point of view, competent and professional. However, they had no experience navigating the extra bureaucratic hoops required to get a system installed on a strata property.

This was not an issue at all because Scott had done the hard yards and ticked off all those extra boxes by installation day. The solar company was able to complete the job like just another day at the office.

Hot tip for solar company owners in major metros: Both my and Scott’s thinking is that there could be an untapped market for solar companies who are willing to put some resources into educating themselves with the view to guiding strata property owners through this process.

Back to the install.

The 4.2kW system installed consisted of 14 x 305W Winaico mono PERC solar panels, each with its own Enphase microinverter mounted underneath the panel. These were recommended because of the shading and orientation issues of his roof (or roofs in this case).

Panels were mounted on four different roofs over three levels of his apartment. To complicate things further, they were also oriented differently. Some faced north and others north-west, some mounted portrait and others landscape.

None of these panels were visible from the street, so aesthetics played less part in the overall design. The mixed orientation of the panels strangely and counterintuitively offered a better outcome.

Using microinverters rather than a single string inverter was the perfect solution for this particular job. It meant that the maximum possible solar energy output could be harvested from a compromised roof layout. This method allows each panel/ inverter combination to feed AC current independently to the grid through Scott’s meter.

The extra cost of installing microinverters was justified in Scott’s opinion, and his opinion is the one that counts. The system paid for itself in less than five years. I forgot to mention previously that this journey started seven years ago. It’s money in the bank from here on.

The other thing I haven’t mentioned so far is the potential roof area available for future solar panels of other strata property owners. The other two units in this instance don’t have a typical pitched roof like Scott, but a flat terrace roof.

Although it never came up in conversation with his neighbours, there is absolutely potential for a solar array on each unit. The options are either mounting solar panels on tilt frames directly to the roof, or building a taller structure to mount them on so the occupants can still use the roof for whatever purpose they choose.

Wrapping It Up

I asked many questions of Scott whilst putting together this article. I’ll leave you with some of them, along with his answers, and hope that the info here is enough to get any strata property owners onto the solar energy bandwagon.

SQ: In simple terms, what was the process from start to finish?
Scott: 1.Talk to owners and/ or managing agents of properties, 2. Get a legal document drawn up and signed by all parties, 3. Install the solar power system.

SQ: What were the main hurdles and hoops to jump through?
Scott: Educating people. Especially property managing agents and body corporate agents.

SQ: What advice would you give other people wishing to do the same?
Scott: Communicate well with the other strata owners. This is obviously more difficult the bigger the strata complex. Also, get everything legally documented to cover future owners of the property.

SQ: Would you do anything differently the second time around?
Scott: Get a cheaper lawyer!

Problem solved. Here is a generic template made from Scott’s Common Property Licence Agreement, free for anyone to use.

And for good measure, here’s the Owners Corporation Ballot Paper – Special Resolution.

While we’re at it, why not throw in the Owners Corporation Ballot Instructions.

Bear in mind it might be worth reading the relevant legislation in your home state and a bit of tweaking to fit your circumstances. If in doubt, get a lawyer to eyeball it.

Good luck!

Boring Disclaimer: The information and/ or opinions expressed in this article do not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

About Kim Wainwright

A solar installer and electrician in a previous life, Kim has been blogging for SolarQuotes since 2022. He enjoys translating complex aspects of the solar industry into content that the layperson can understand and digest. He spends his time reading about renewable energy and sustainability, while simultaneously juggling teaching and performing guitar music around various parts of Australia. Read Kim's full bio.

Comments

  1. Guy Redden says

    What a great story. We are apartment dwellers too so ‘can’t have solar’ – or can we? This has got me thinking. We live in an area of 2-4 storey apartments, many with double pitched roofs clear of the tree line. A few have large solar arrays. Must be shared? Our own roof is a bit more complex with gables but looks strong and has a lot of area, and we are 2 storey. Suspect we could generate a lot of our electricity needs with owners installing together.

    Should there be any techie people reading, the main reason I didn’t get in touch with our local council which has a grant scheme for solar and strata is because they don’t pay for new meters (expensive?). And we are new to the block so are not sure any conversation would be easy.

    https://www.innerwest.nsw.gov.au/live/environment-and-sustainability/at-home/go-solar/solar-for-apartments-and-townhouses/go-solar-for-strata

    My dream would be we cooperate to install together, and go the whole hog of battery, and EV capability (assume that one is more complex – more amps needed?). Suspect we need to wait for lighter more efficient modules (perovskites) and robust legal/policy backing before mass strata installations, or some smart fin-tech company that offers no brainer strata scheme packages with no upfront costs and payback rates lower than current bills for all.

    On the other hand, surely installation costs are lower if a large roof is covered at once. I wonder if the economics of whole strata schemes are already persuasive. Might try to make it a pet project if so. Any advice gratefully received.

    • Ian Wright says

      Hi Guy,

      I’m Chairman of a Body Corporate (as Owners Corporations are known) in Queensland. We had a similarly long journey installing solar at our site, but not due to a lack of enthusiasm from strata managers or owners.

      Indeed, we installed 520kWs of panels in total across the (only) commercial building and 72 townhouses only a year ago.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvuP2XgDZa4&t=3s

      As the system is paid off and as Feed in Tariffs lower (hopefully in line) with battery prices, we are looking to install community batteries to “extend” the solar hours.

      The main point I wanted to reply to in your comment, Guy, was that in Queensland the vast majority of retailers do not charge to upgrade your meter to a solar smart meter. Origin charge $60. Not a deal breaker up here. I haven’t read up on your Council grant scheme, but wonder whether a call to your (and other owners’?) current retailers would determine whether they charge for upgrading your current meters after a solar install?

      Also, we installed standard silicon type panels. We had the large commercial roof checked by a structural engineer ($1,500 or so), but a solar installer won’t install on a roof unsuitable for solar, so speak to them about your concerns re. weight. Most roofs are strong enough.

      Remember, the best time to install solar was 10 years ago. The next best time is now! Hopefully you’ll have no need to wait for perovskite panels…or eV chargers, or batteries. You don’t have to get absolutely everything in the first solar install…wait for the first phase to start paying itself off, then look at your new usage needs and plan the second solar install to match.

      It’s a long, hard but satisfying journey when it’s a success. Our resort has saved the equivalent of over 470 tonnes of CO2 in the first year. Just imagine the impact if every BC scheme (with some roof space) could achieve a successful solar installation!

      The best of luck to you!

      • Ronald Brakels says

        I winced when I saw the guy walking on the solar panels.

      • Guy Redden says

        Super advice and well done being another pioneer in this. After those clarifications I’m going to ring council and start working out the lie of the land. I do know we have a couple of interesting personalities on strata so I’ll need to start checking out the vibes.

        You’re absolutely right on not waiting for better modules. It’s more a thought that the current residential market focussed on house owners with enough roof space to meet their needs makes sense. The biggest issue with strata is the collective agreement required, but there’s also just the economics that not all strata roofs can produce enough electricity to cover residents’ needs.

        I’m not sure of the likely specs of the next gen of panels, but if it’s something like they produce 20% more electricity and are light/flexible enough that significantly more roof area can be covered I hope that would be a game changer for the solar strata market. For many properties it might change the conversation to something like covering shared electricity consumption plus two thirds of residents’ consumption, much more attractive than shared consumption plus one third of residents’. Say in an apartment ‘six pack’ like ours.

        Seems your scheme had enough roof for 7.2kW per unit which is great – though I’m not sure how much juice was for residents if the commercial unit is on board, or how much residents might pay the owner of the commercial unit for use of their roof.

  2. My non-lawyer`s understanding of the 2021 change in Victoria is that they apply to individually owned roofs (mainly units and townhouses), rather than common property roofs (mainly flats).

  3. David Jackson says

    Hi,
    I had solar installed in strata a number of years back (NSW). I just raised it at the AGM and had it voted on, the managing agents actually had it added as a by-law for anybody down the track. Getting the by-law drafted took a bit longer, but this gave me time to do inverter/panel/installer research. Somebody new had already had solar installed without permission, so this got rolled into it as well.
    As all properties in the complex were single level villas, we just had to stay on our roof section. Not a lot of room really due to roof design, but enough for a 6.6kw system.

    • Christian Coquet says

      Hi David,

      this is a very interesting comment. I have been going along the same path as finally it seems now easier to install solar on the roofs of townhouses in NSW. My AGM is due next month and I do not expect any problems there to get the 50% approval required.
      I have approached the strata manager to start the process and was told as expected I needed a new by-law. The lawyer fees for this though are out of this world for what I expect to be 2 or 3 lines of text:
      By-Law Creation. $850 + GST
      By-Law Consolidation/Lodgement $850 + GST
      Solicitor Disbursements $69 approx
      By-Law Registration Fee $146.40

      Would you still have a copy of your by-law I could use as a model?
      Being a self funded retiree I do have the time to go through as much the process myself but definitely cannot afford these exorbitant lawyers fees.

      Looking forward to your reply

      Thanking you in advance

      Christian

  4. Our body corporate approved for a solar install a few years back, however we are currently dealing with a water leaks causing damage to the internal roof. The solar company says it’s a roof issue where our roofie says it looks like water is being ingested via alterations done by the solar company to the roof so the fun and costs continue to grow…

    It does seem to have caused ‘complexity’ now that we have a leak we are trying to deal. Further we ‘might’ have to pay to ‘remove’ some panels to repair a roof it’s it’s found to be the body corporate issue. However the ‘costs’ to ‘try’ work out who needs to pay for this leak and whats caused it…etc have not been easy!

    When we (body corporate members) approved this we thought if there was an issue the solar company or owner would cover it or if not their fault we would just fix it as we would normally do but it’s definitely not been that simple and has become a rather costly exercise than we had expected.

    Suggest discussing such possible issues in detail or ensuring contracts are better than what we have in place currently…

  5. The main challenge I’ve found in getting solar installed in my apartment complex is that you usually need a Scott Watkins type who will single-mindedly drag the owners through the process and make it happen. Even when there’s general acceptance of the concept, few people want to put in the work. But that’s how it always is, I suppose!

    I’ve tried to get the ball rolling on solar and EV charging in my owner’s corporation but haven’t managed to keep it going, particularly because of the next point.

    The other challenge is that as soon as there are other major expenses to confront (as there are in my building at the moment) all appetite for the “nice-to-haves” such as solar or EV chargers understandably vanishes. Not much one can do about that except to raise the subject again once the expenses are dealt with.

    • Guy Redden says

      Currently it looks like solar for strata has to be somebody’s passion project. It would be great to have accumulated know-how and models available that make challenges easier to overcome. Our roof looks really good for solar but I haven’t managed to get through to our council’s renewables officer yet to discuss their support. They are active but prefer supporting projects on new blocks and without need to replace switchboards. This makes sense when rolling out the program, but all the examples on their site are flashy places. In time I hope they target older and less swanky blocks so government support can reach more people on a social equity basis.

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