The increasingly common practice of renting roof space to companies to install solar panels can lead to cheaper bills but there are legal pitfalls which mean you may be left with a home which is unsellable. Solar panels are a common sight on roofs around Nottingham and Nottinghamshire and they can bring many benefits. They are environmentally friendly and the energy they generate can cut household electricity bills significantly.

Even though prices have fallen over the last few years, many people are put off by the installation costs. Some companies will install solar panels for free so that residential property owners can benefit from the power the panels generate. These “rent a roof” schemes sound too good to be true – so what’s the catch? During the day, you can use as much of the electricity the panels generate as you want, which can make quite a difference to your bills. But usually you will use much more electricity at night – for heating, lighting and so on. Because people are normally out of the house during the day, to make a real difference you would need to change the way you use your power so that you use more during the daytime. For instance, you could run your washing machine and dishwasher during daylight hours instead.

In addition to these savings, the Government makes payments through solar panel schemes. These payments are made for the amount of electricity that the system generates and feeds back into the national grid. However, under a rent a roof scheme, payments are made not to the residential property owner, instead it is the installer of the system who owns it and the payment will go to them and not the property owner.

More significantly, a rent a roof scheme requires the property owner to sign up to a commercial lease of part of their home. This allows the installer access to the roof to install and repair the panels and it is they who would remove the panels if required. But the arrangement in the eyes of the law is regarded as a lease which is a business tenancy, and as such the company which has installed the solar panels has a grant of property rights over your land.

Because a lease acts as a grant of rights to a third party, this means that if you have a mortgage you need the bank or building society to consent to it, and you must also inform your insurer. Many mortgage providers are very reluctant to give their consent. Also, when you come to sell, a purchaser looking to buy your home may well find it difficult if not impossible to get a mortgage if there is a rent a roof scheme in place. That means that you could be left with a home you can’t sell until the solar panels are removed. Whether you can ask for them to be removed depends on the terms of the agreement you have entered into.

You might still think it is worth your while considering a rent a roof scheme, especially if you do use a lot of electricity during the day. But there are pitfalls, and the law is complicated. You need to be clear about precisely what you can expect in terms of savings on your bills; for further information about saving energy, solar panels and other renewable energy technologies, a good place to start is the Energy Saving Trust (www.energysavingtrust.org.uk). But you need to be just as clear about what your legal rights under any legal agreement are.

The risks of Rent a roof schemes and free solar panels