Vivint Solar: The complete review and consumer guide

Vivint is one of the largest solar installers in the United States. If you’re thinking of going with Vivint, be sure to read this guide before signing on the dotted line.

If you’re a homeowner in one of the top states for home solar such as California, New Mexico, or Arizona, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve had a salesperson from Vivint Solar come knocking on your door.

Operating in 21 states and with gross revenues in 2018 of $760 million, Vivint Solar is one of the largest solar installers in the nation. Like its larger competitor SunRun, Vivint Solar sells home solar systems under a type of contract known as a power purchase agreement (PPA).

Mar 2021 update: Actually, Sunrun acquired Vivint Solar at the end of last year, so now they're the same company. It's unclear whether the Vivint name will continue on.

Under a PPA, the homeowner doesn’t own the solar panels, but instead basically rents them from the solar company. The homeowner is under contract to buy their electricity from the solar company instead of the utility.

Theoretically, the price a homeowner pays for electricity under a PPA is less than what they would normally pay to their utility, but that is not always the case. In fact, this point is one of the major complaints in a lawsuit from the State of New Mexico.

In fact, if you do even cursory consumer research into Vivint Solar, you’ll quickly find a number of issues to potentially be concerned about. In this article, we’ll take a close look at the consumer reviews, Better Business Bureau complaints, and a pending lawsuit against Vivint Solar.

Vivint Solar: a quick history

Vivint is a home automation company that was started in 1999. It was originally known as APX Alarm Security Solutions and rebranded itself to Vivint in 2011.

Back then, its main product was home security systems. Alarms are still a primary part of its business, although it has since expanded into other home automation products such as doorbell cameras.

In 2011, in addition to rebranding itself, Vivint spun off Vivint Solar as a standalone company. While operating separately, the solar division does retain some things in common with the original company, especially the use of door-to-door sales.

APX Alarm was plagued by misconduct allegations for pushy and deceitful sales practices - an astonishing 4,600 complaints are still listed on BBB - and similar allegations dog Vivint Solar today.

Consumer reviews of Vivint Solar

Because it’s one of the largest solar installers, you’ll find numerous reviews online for Vivint Solar. There are a couple things to watch out for when researching reviews.

First, Vivint Solar has multiple locations, which means that on many review sites you’ll see separate reviews for each state it operates in. While it’s useful to read reviews about how Vivint operates in your local area, many of the complaints about the company are common to its operations across the nation - for example, complaints about its PPA contract.

This means that you should either look up Vivint Solar reviews for its headquarters location in Lehi, Utah, or read reviews from other states.

The other thing is that Vivint Inc - the home automation company - is distinct from Vivint Solar. Make sure that you’re reading reviews for the right company. You might see listings for Vivint Smart Home and Vivint Home Security. None of these are the solar company.

Vivint Solar: aggregate of reviews

To start, here’s a list of scores of Vivint Solar from several popular review websites:

BBB

3.89 out of 5 based on 541 reviews and 1,050 complaints

Best Company

3.2 out of 5 based on 1,089 reviews

Consumer Affairs

2 out of 5 based on 105 reviews

EnergySage

4 out of 5 based on 64 reviews

Notably, EnergySage gives Vivint the highest rating of all the review sites listed here. You should also know that Vivint happens to also be an EnergySage-approved installer, which means that you can get quotes from Vivint through EnergySage.

We don't know for sure if EnergySage's reviews are influenced by this, but it certainly does raise questions.

Solar Reviews

2.74 out of 5 based on 628 reviews

Trustpilot

3.8 out of 5 based on 180 reviews

Yelp

1 out of 5 based on 23 reviews (Lehi, UT location)

Overall, these ratings aren't great, especially if you discount the EnergySage score due to the business relationship between the two companies.

But online reviews are vulnerable to manipulation, so these should be treated as only one data point in our assessment of the company.

Which review sites to trust?

Anybody can post a review online, but some sites have different standards in place to help ensure that those reviews are legitimate.

The Solar Nerd uses reviews from Yelp and the Better Business Bureau as one part of our overall process in screening solar installers for inclusion in our partner network. If you’re doing your own research, we recommend that you start with them too.

BBB reviews of Vivint Solar

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is a credible organization, and a good place to start if you want reviews about Vivint Solar.

When you search on BBB.org, multiple Vivint Solar locations will appear. Start with the location nearest to you (if there is one), but also be sure to check the headquarters location: BBB reviews of Vivint Solar.

BBB has two categories of feedback that a consumer can submit: complaints and reviews. A complaint is a more substantial type of feedback where the consumer is asking for a formal resolution. A review, in comparison, is a review like you would find any other review site.

What types of complaints do people have about Vivint Solar?

On BBB.org, there have been a total of 1,050 customer complaints that have been filed. They fall into the following categories:

  • Advertising and Sales complaints: 70
  • Billing/Collections: 176
  • Delivery Issues: 29
  • Guarantee/Warranty: 15
  • Problem with a Product or Service: 760

Of these complaints, only 197 were resolved to the customer’s satisfaction, leaving 534 answered but unresolved complaints.

Here’s a sample of complaints:

Door-to-door sales tactics

Out of a total of 1,050 complaints listed on BBB.org, 70 were related to advertising or sales. Vivint Solar uses door-to-door sales, and one disturbing thing mentioned in multiple complaints is the salesperson doing a “hard” credit check of the homeowner on the spot. This is the type of credit check that shows up on your credit record. Too many checks in a short period of time can be a negative mark on your credit record. BBB complaint about Vivint Solar Source: BBB.org

Billing issues

The second most common complaint about Vivint Solar on BBB.org is about billing-related issues - 176 complaints in total. Many of these are customers complaining that the savings Vivint promised ended up lower than expected, or even that their bills were higher than before installing solar. Here’s an example: BBB complaint about Vivint Solar Source: BBB.org

Product and service issues

With 760 complaints being service or product-related problems, this is the largest category of complaints on the BBB website about Vivint Solar.

Many of them involve homeowners who are trying to get their solar panels temporarily removed because of a need for roof repairs. In some cases, the homeowner claims that Vivint Solar caused roof damage during the solar panel installation. Here’s one such case, which at the time of writing was not yet resolved: BBB complaint about Vivint Solar Source: BBB.org

While none of these complaints prove that Vivint Solar has caused roof damage to customers’ homes, unfortunately it’s entirely plausible that shoddy work by a solar company could cause such damage, or even worse.

Take the case of Walmart v. SolarCity (Tesla), for example. Walmart accused SolarCity of causing rooftop fires at several of its stores because of poor installation practices that lead to solar panels actually catching fire.

To be clear, actual fire was not mentioned in any of the BBB complaints about Vivint Solar, although at least one complaint accused them of poor wiring that could have lead to a fire: BBB complaint about Vivint Solar Source: BBB.org

This litany of complaints doesn’t look good. But you should never rely on just one source when making an evaluation like this. However, a lawsuit by the State of New Mexico against Vivint Solar provides some important corroboration.

Yelp reviews of Vivint Solar

The average Yelp review of Vivint Solar at their headquarters is 1 star. Keep in mind that Vivint has multiple locations around the country, so be sure to check the Vivint Solar reviews nearest your location (if any exist).

While this is a pretty poor review average, there are a few customers who are happy with Vivint: Yelp review of Vivint Solar Source: Yelp

Lawsuit by the State of New Jersey

In October 2019, Vivint Solar settled a lawsuit from the State of New Jersey for $122,000. In its press release, New Jersey’s Attorney General’s office stated:

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced that Vivint Solar Developer, LLC (“Vivint”) has agreed to pay nearly $122,000 and significantly change its business practices to resolve allegations that it engaged in deceptive sales practices, failed to deliver promised energy savings, and otherwise violated consumer protection laws in its sales of home solar energy panels in the state.

If you read the complaint you’ll see that the bad sales practices are the same alleged by the State of New Mexico, which are described in details below.

Lawsuit by the State of New Mexico

On March 8, 2018 Attorney General Hector Balderas for the State of New Mexico filed a lawsuit against Vivint Solar “for Defrauding New Mexicans & Jeopardizing Their Home Ownership”.

The lawsuit lists 17 different counts against Vivint, accusing them of sales tactics that exaggerate or lie about the products and services they sell, and generally having business practices that constitute fraud and rackeetering.

You should read the complaint in full if you want the details about all 17 counts, but there are a few that are noteworthy:

High electricity prices

One of the chief complaints in the NM lawsuit is high prices charged to Vivint’s customers, a fact that may not be well disclosed by their door-to-door sales:

As with other utility companies throughout the country, PMN’s rates are tiered and have different seasonal rates. PNM’s tier one rates, which cover the first 450 kWh hours of electricity consumed every month, are more than 26% lower than Vivint’s rates. As a result, the average consumer pays substantially less for electricity purchased from PNM than for electricity purchased from Vivint. Moreover, in contrast to the built-in 2.9% escalator in the PPA, PNM’s rates have been relatively stable for approximately a decade. This is significant because, pursuant to the PPA, consumers will see more than a 72% increase over the twenty year term of their contract, with rates steadily rising to more than $0.18 per kWh.

This echoes many of the complaints you can find on BBB.org.

Liens on your home

When you enter into a solar lease or PPA, the solar company owns the equipment. Because of this, Vivint places a UCC-1 filing on the property. This UCC-1 filing is a lien on the solar equipment, not the home.

However, because the UCC-1 filing turns up when performing a search for liens on the property, it has had the effect of causing confusion and delays on the sale of a property. While not strictly a lien, the New Mexico lawsuit argues that the UCC filing has the same effect as a lien on the home itself:

Contrary to its representations to consumers, the fixture filings filed by Vivint are effectively liens, as they identify the consumer as a “debtor” and Vivint as a “secured party.” The 15 operative effect of these filings is to cloud title, creating substantial delays and difficulties in the sale or refinancing of real property. Consumers have been harmed by Vivint’s filings. The Defendant has filed hundreds of such filings against the real properties of consumers in multiple counties throughout New Mexico.

This accusation by the Attorney General is corroborated by multiple complaints on BBB.org. For example: BBB complaint about Vivint Solar Source: BBB.org

No paper copies of the contract

The lawsuit states that Vivint Solar’s door-to-door sales staff use electronic tablets to present the PPA contract to customers. The tablets are also used to get an e-signature on the contract from the customer. One of the key points in the lawsuit is that the customer never has an opportunity to read a paper version of the PPA, making it difficult to see important details such as the annual 2.9% price escalator.

One consumer noted that when agreeing to the Vivint contract, he was “never shown the full document.” Instead, the Vivint Sales Manager showed the consumer the first two pages of the contract on a tablet, then flipped to the last page to get the consumer’s signature agreeing to the contract. The consumer had no idea that the contract he signed consisted of more than those three pages and he was never provided with a physical copy of the contract or physical copies of the cancellation notice.

Lawsuit still pending

This lawsuit is still pending. We’ll update this page when there’s progress to report. In the meantime, you can refer to the New Mexico AG website or read this article from the Salt Lake Tribune.

Contractor violations in at least four states

To operate legally, Vivint Solar must maintain numerous state and local contractor liceneses. Several states allow you to look up licenses online and check for any complaints against a company. We weren’t able to check them all, but at least four states have complaints or discliplinary actions. These include Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Nevada.

Obviously, this isn’t great. For context, unless the complaint is for a trivial issue, The Solar Nerd will normally exclude a company from its network of installers if it has any violations listed.

Final advice

Given the poor consumer reviews, two lawsuits by state’s attorneys general, the multiple state contractor license violations, the 1,050 BBB complaints, and history of misconduct allegations against APX Alarm Security Solutions, it’s a fair assessment to say that you can probably find a better solar contractor in most cities in the US.

As an aside, Sunrun recently acquired Vivint Solar. Given all that was known about Vivint Solar at the time, it would be a reasonable to conclude that any qualms you have about them should also be applied to Sunrun too.

Despite all this, there are apparently some customers who have been happy with their service from Vivint. If you happen to live in a place with few solar installers and Vivint happens to be one of them - maybe you should consider them. Be sure to do your research, and always read and understand the contract in full before committing to a solar lease or PPA.

For more information about solar leases and PPAs, read our complete guide to solar financing.

TAGS:
#Installers #Leases and PPAs

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