Get Gephardt Investigates: Solar panels make it tough for some to refi their homes
WEST VALLEY CITY, UT —
Diana Morin is among the nearly 20,000 homeowners in Utah who have installed solar panels. She was convinced by a door-to-door salesman it would be a good investment. But the investment has led to a massive headache, one that began when she tried to refinance her home.
"Lo and behold, I was told I had a second mortgage on my home," she said.
Sure enough, according to her credit report, a company called Solar Mosaic says Morin owes them a $12,285 mortgage.
It might sound normal that a lender would put a ding on a credit report until a debt is paid off, but Morin says she was specifically assured, in writing, that a lien would not be placed on her property.
As a result of the lien, "I didn't qualify for the type of loan that I wanted for the refinance,” she said. “I couldn't pull equity out of my home."
In a statement, Solar Mosaic maintains that Morin was not deceived, writing.
"Our filing is not a lien on the property," rather "just a lien on the solar panels."
Still, with the solar panels attached to the home, Solar Mosaic admits it shows up that way "on title reports."
Nathan Pierce with the Utah Association of Mortgage Professionals said loan issues like the one facing Morin are popping up all the time, especially as solar panels are growing in popularity.
"It's going to affect consumers' ability to get mortgage loans," he warned.
People who install solar panels on their homes often end up with what's called "a uniform commercial code-1" ding on their property until those panels are paid off. While technically not a lien or a mortgage, Pierce said it’s viewed as just that in the eyes of a lender.
It's a lesson Morin learned the hard way. She eventually paid $250 to get Solar Mosaic to temporarily lift the ding on her title in order for her to be able to get her home refinanced.
She says she wants others who are considering solar to consider her story.
"If they need to refinance, they'll have kind of a nasty surprise," she said.