How a SoCal family dealt with a messy 20-year contract after switching to solar; experts urge residents to explore options – KABC-TV

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LOS ANGELES (KABC) — A greener home is costing some Southern California families more money.

For many homeowners, the cost of going solar involves pricey loans and leases. In one case, a family got stuck with a 20-year contract.

True cost of going solar

Last month, Eyewitness News reported on how thousands of Los Angeles County homeowners thought they were getting free energy-efficient upgrades, but instead ended up with loans they couldn’t afford.

Sarah Altman reached out to ABC7 to share her family’s story. At the time, her father had already paid $32,000 and there were still 10 years left on the lease.

When they installed solar panels, the Altmans thought it would save them money, but it turned out to be a long-term mess.

“I’m angry that we fell for it,” said Linda Altman.

Linda said her husband agreed to the installation. After he passed away, her daughter, Sarah, saw all the documents.

“My dad was actually the one who signed the agreement and they came to his house,” said Sarah. “He was 75 years old in failing health and asked him to sign this document that ended up being a 20-year contract.”

“He’s a smart guy,” she added. “He was a bright doctor who understood how things worked, but however they sold it to him, he didn’t understand that he’d be paying out over $60,000 for solar panels.”

Know your options if you want solar panels

Attorney Joe Jaramillo with Housing and Economic Rights Advocates said they see this often.

“There’s been a lot of misrepresentations and misleading statements made to folks, particularly vulnerable homeowners, people on a fixed income, elderly, non-English speakers in particular, can be susceptible to this,” he said.

Jaramillo said some solar installers convince people to get leases or power purchasing agreements. With those, the homeowner does not get any tax benefits or ownership.

“Many people that enter into these leases think that they’re buying the solar panels. That once they make all the payments, the panels are going to be theirs, but these leases typically do not give the panels to the homeowner once the all the lease payments are done,” said Jaramillo.

Sarah believes “it was absolutely elder abuse.”

“They were going door-to-door in his area and just approaching people, and they must’ve been really good salesmen,” she said.

A few months after installing the panels, the Altmans analyzed their electricity usage and Linda said it simply wasn’t producing the savings they were promised.

“He tracked the electric bill, and he saw that it wasn’t doing anything,” she said.

Sarah said she spent months trying to deal with the company. She called the Better Business Bureau and filed a complaint.

“Then I finally got someone’s attention, but even after that, it was another four months until we could come to an agreement and settle and get this all completed and paid off,” she said.

When you switch to solar, you sometimes have to review and sign the contract on a tablet or computer.

Jaramillo urges people not to feel pressured.

“You definitely should take your time before you sign anything,” he said. “It’s best to ask for everything in writing. Make sure that if there’s more than one agreement that you see both agreements, make sure that you understand what are you signing.”

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