Question: An owner has asked the board about installing an electric car charging station for his new electric car. Do we have to approve the request, and if we do, who is responsible for the cost of installing and maintaining the equipment?
Answer: Unless your governing documents specifically require you to accommodate this request, you arenít required to do so Ė but you probably should. While this owner may be the first to seek a charging station for an electric car, he almost certainly wonít be the last. According to industry statistics, there were approximately 540,000 electric cars on the road in the United States last year; thatís up from 73,000 in 2012. The trend is clear. But it also raises a number of complicated policy questions for community associations, starting with the one you identified: Who pays for the recharging equipment electric cars require?
If youíre talking about a single owner or even a handful of them in a large community, the obvious answer Ė and the fair one Ė is: The owners who use the equipment should pay for it. But as the number of electric car owners increases, the argument for making this a common area expense becomes more compelling. Among other considerations: Communities that lack charging stations will have trouble competing for buyers with new developments that are including them and with older communities that will be adding them.
In these early days, however, requiring the owners who want the stations to pay for them makes sense. Cost allocation is only one of the questions condominium boards will have to address. Even more challenging: Where will the charging stations be located?
Thatís not a problem if owners have separate garages or if the board can simply designate spaces for electric cars (although some owners will no doubt be unhappy with the boardís decisions); itís considerably more complicated if parking spaces are deeded or assigned. What do you do if the best, or possibly the only feasible spot is occupied by someone who doesnít have an electric car? You can ask this owner, politely, to swap; but if itís a deeded space, you canít force the owner to relinquish it. The best bet here is to hope the owners involved in the debate will be able to reach an agreement. Industry executives offer these additional suggestions to boards as they consider the likely growth in electric car ownership:
1. Establish policies governing charging stations before you start fielding requests for them. The policies should specify who will pay for the installation, repair and maintenance of the equipment.
2. If owners are responsible for installation, boards should either arrange for and oversee the process (at the expense of owners using the stations) or grant easements allowing owners to install the stations in designated common area locations. If the latter, boards should insist on approving the installation plans and either select or approve the contractors owners use.
3. Boards should also require owners to pay for the electricity used to charge their cars, maintain insurance covering the charging stations, and indemnify the association for any damages resulting from their installation, use, or maintenance.
4. If the board is going to designate parking spots for electric cars, try to select the least desirable rather than the most desirable locations, to reduce friction with other owners.
5. Poll owners to gauge their support for making the installation of charging stations a common expense and repeat the poll periodically. Support for this option will likely increase as more owners acquire electric cars.