The Buzz on Electric Cars and Condos

Let’s say you own a downtown Toronto townhouse or condo and are looking to buy a new car. Being environmentally conscious, you opt for an electric vehicle – it’s a chance to save money and help the planet!

And then you realize that there’s a problem. Where will you charge your new car?

A Logistical Quandary

Despite the growing popularity of electric cars, infrastructure for these kind of vehicles hasn’t yet fully caught up. Namely, for some residents of both houses and condos, charging their new electric cars may present something of a hassle.

Take the case of Todd Anderson, who was profiled by the Toronto Star last month. Anderson purchased a Chevy Volt in April, in a bid to do his part to be climate-friendly. But as someone who doesn’t have either a garage or a driveway, he’s realized that charging his Volt is not easy:

To charge his car, Anderson must run an extension cord from the charging station he installed on the lawn of his Riverdale home to a public spot kitty-corner from his house. If the space is full, he has to park in the no-parking zone in front of his house. So far, he said he’s been fined about $300, and he’s worried the cord is a tripping hazard.

He laments how difficult it is to charge his electric car, telling the Star, “I don’t think someone who drives a gas car would put up with not being able to use a gas station on a daily basis.”

The Charging Challenge

It’s tough to disagree with Anderson’s assessment. The stark reality is that because electric car owners are still a small minority, there isn’t enough political pressure to push for better infrastructure. In fact, despite getting in touch with his councilor, he really didn’t see any meaningful progress in getting the city or Toronto Hydro to put in new charging stations.

If you own an electric vehicle and live in a house without a driveway or garage, you seem to have two options. First, you can run an electric cord all the way from your house to the street, if that’s feasible. You may, depending on where your car is parked, run afoul of parking bylaws, or even create a potential tripping hazard. In the event that you can park right beside your house, the second option is to purchase an electric charging station. These retail for between $800-$1,300 depending on the model.

The Challenge with Electric Cars and Condos

At least house owners have the option of purchasing their own charging station – if a condo resident wants to charge their electric car, the natural place to do so is in the building’s parking garage, which often lacks the necessary plugs.

Ron Groves, manager of Education and Outreach at non-profit electric vehicle advocate Plug n’ Drive, says that as electric vehicles have only been on the market for five years, condos built before this time wouldn’t have planned for the necessary infrastructure. However, he adds that this is changing among new developments. “In new builds, very often EV charging is being planned and roughed in,” he says, adding doing so contributes to a building’s LEEDs certification.

He adds that Vancouver is the only city to introduce bylaws to include EV charging stations in homes, but “This will change soon. For example, we know the province of Ontario is working on new legislation to address this shortcoming. I expect we will see that legislation next year.”

Sharing the Surge in Costs

However, recharging an electric car contributes to higher utility bills for the building as a whole; the parking garage is a common area so any expenses are ultimately borne by all the residents. And, not surprisingly, those without an electric car may not want to subsidize residents who own these vehicles.

The Star’s condo law columnist, Gerry Hyman, makes the following observations about both the relevant legislation and how disputes should be settled:

The Condominium Act provides that a board may make rules respecting the use of common elements and units. This indicates that a rule could be passed providing that the outlets in parking units will not be used to charge vehicles.

Rules, however, must be reasonable. Is it reasonable to pass such a rule because the cost of the large amounts of electricity used will be a common expense shared by all of the unit owners? Or would the rule be considered unreasonable because the owner will be unable to use a car that he cannot fuel while parked in his parking unit?

In order to avoid having those questions answered by an arbitrator it would be advisable for the rule to permit use of the outlet for that purpose provided that the unit owner agrees in writing with the corporation to pay to the corporation the cost of the corporation installing a meter to measure electrical output at the outlet and the cost of the recorded hydro.

The Power of Change

While there are currently (no pun intended) issues with owning and charging an electric car at your house or condo, these obstacles shouldn’t necessarily stop you from purchasing one. But before you do, ensure you know what kind of infrastructure you’ll need, and whether it’s close by.

According to Groves, condos will eventually consider charging stations as they would any other amenity.

“While legislation is one way to mandate the installation of EV charging stations in condos, ultimately the consumer will drive demand for what is essentially a common element, just like a swimming pool, gym, common room, etc.,” he says.

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