BOSTON (CBS) – With the potential to save homeowners hundreds of dollars a year in electricity costs, solar panels are growing in popularity across Massachusetts.
However, there is a little-known drawback to some residential solar programs and it can leave homeowners taking a serious financial hit.
Initially, Michele and Mike Bradley of Brockton loved their solar panels.
“It’s incredible, the savings,” Michele said, describing her lower electric bills after the panels were installed by Vivint Solar.
“It’s green. You are doing what’s right for the earth. It’s a great thing,” Mike agreed.
The Bradley’s were happy customers until they tried to refinance.
“We were misled from the beginning,” Michelle said.
According to the couple, their mortgage company rejected their application because of the language in the lease agreement.
The contract requires any new owner of the home to take over the 20-year lease of the panels. That, according to the Bradley’s was a deal-breaker for their lender.
They asked Vivint to adjust the language in the agreement, but the company refused. Their only way out was to buy the panels outright.
“That’s 40 grand,” Mike said incredulously. “If I had 40-grand, I wouldn’t be leasing the panels in the first place. I would have just bought them and then I wouldn’t have any electric bill.”
The Bradleys claim they specifically asked about selling or refinancing and the salesperson from Vivint assured them there would be no issue.
“I got screwed,” Mike said. “What I’m saving on electric, I’m paying in (mortgage) interest. It’s a wash.”
Vivint Solar sent the I-Team a statement, which said they have had many customers complete refinances and other mortgages without incident. The statement also read, “To our knowledge, our customer agreements comply with all federal guidelines.”
However the guidelines posted on US Department of Housing and Urban Development website say anything that encumbers the transfer of property does not meet stipulations.
Attorney General Maura Healey has received a number of complaints related to the refinancing issue and other problems involving residential solar panels.
That is why Healey issued this advisory to consumers, warning them about potential problems.
“If you lease solar panels, you may be on the hook for payments,” she said. “We just want to make sure customers are informed and understand what their obligations are.”
The Bradleys found another mortgage company to complete their refi, but lost out on a lower mortgage rate.
“I feel like I was lied to. It’s just another scam. I am a victim of a scam,” Mike said.
The bottom line, according to the Attorney General, you have to read the fine print. If you don’t understand it, find someone who does.