Can bad cases ever make good law? Maybe in the case of homeowners Richard Treanor and Carolynn Bissett who were criminally prosecuted under the Solar Shade Control Act (“SSCA”) because their pre-existing trees cast shadows over their neighbor’s solar panels. Until the recent enactment of an amendment to the SSCA, property owners could face criminal prosecution if their trees grew to shade a neighbor’s solar panels, with no consideration given to whether the trees were planted before the panels were installed. The amendment, enacted to remedy the situation that befell Treanor and Bissett, has good intentions and may have the effect it was designed to have–striking a balance between trees and solar. However, the amendment also forges new law in California, creating private nuisance liability for blocking a neighbor’s sunlight. In other words, neighbors can now sue each other directly in civil court. With the increase in solar usage in the state, this may yet prove to be a situation of ‘bad cases make bad law’ after all.
The SSCA was originally passed in 1978 with the noble goal of encouraging the use of solar energy. More recently, using the sun as an alternative energy source has become an important principle of both state and national energy policies.
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