MO Appeals Court Finds Property Owner was Not Entitled to a Declaratory Judgment that His Solar Panels Did Not Require a Permit

This post was authored by Matthew Loescher, Esq.

In March 2020, a Ballwin building inspector conducted an occupancy inspection on DMK’s property at 435 Great Hill Drive. The inspector found that a fence on the property needed to be power sprayed for mold and mildew, repaired to fix broken or rotting pickets, and replaced soon. DMK removed and replaced the fence. In June 2020, the replacement fence failed reinspection. The inspector listed as reasons for the failed inspection “panels poorly secured and work must look professional” pursuant to the International Residential Code (“IRC”) and the International Property Maintenance Code (“IPMC”). The circuit court entered summary judgment for Ballwin after DMK challenged this decision.

On appeal, DMK contended that the definitions of “workmanlike” in the ordinance and “professional” in the violation notice were unresolved issues of material fact that could not be decided on summary judgment. The court found that the plain and ordinary meaning of “workmanlike” as it appears in IPMC 102.5, titled “Workmanship,” is “skillful” and “proficient,” usually suggesting “proficiency in the technique of an art or profession.” Similarly, “professional” means engaged in a learned “profession,” requiring a high level of “proficiency,” and manifesting fine “artistry or workmanship.” Thus, the plain and ordinary meanings of “workmanlike” and “professional” were indistinguishable on any principled basis. As the definition of “workmanlike” in Ballwin’s ordinance was a question of law, which the court determined in Ballwin’s favor, Ballwin was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

DMK next argued its solar system on its front porch was not subject to the permitting requirement for electrical and mechanical systems in IRC R105.1, as they were not tied into the electrical system of the house. Here, the building commissioner tested that the “porch roof covering over the egress to the front door” constituted a “roof” under the IRC. He further stated that the components listed in the ordinance definition of “roof assembly,” such as a vapor retarder and insulation, may be included, but were not mandatory, for the covering to constitute a “roof.” The court found the commissioner’s interpretation of the ordinance was reasonable and consistent, and therefore entitled to deference. Accordingly, DMK was not entitled to a declaratory judgment that the solar panels did not require a permit, and Ballwin was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

DMK Holding, LLC v City of Baldwin, 646 SW 3d 708 (MO App. 6/7/2022)

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