Rev. David Franco installed a charging station and meter
in his condo building for his Nissan Leaf.
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Rich Pollack
Carol Wittenberg loves her 2013 Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid that runs on both gas and electricity.
“It’s environmentally friendly, it’s economical and it’s comfortable and quiet,” she says.
But when Wittenberg and her husband, Larry, returned to their condominium in Highland Beach last month, the Volt remained in the garage of their Michigan home.
“There isn’t a charging station nearby to make it worthwhile,” says Wittenberg.
As the number of electric cars on the road continues to grow, condominiums with shared parking facilities and even small municipalities are wrestling with the question of how, if at all, to accommodate people like the Wittenbergs and others in a small group of electric-car owners looking for convenient ways to plug in.
“It’s something that’s creating a buzz in our industry,” says Lisa Magill, an attorney who specializes in community association law for the firm of Becker & Poliakoff.
At the heart of the issue is the question of who should pay for installations of charging stations, and then once they’re in, how to ensure residents of an entire building don’t end up paying for the electricity being used by just a few individuals to charge their cars.
Even municipalities are facing the challenge, with the town of Highland Beach deciding against the installation of a community charging station because the benefits for a few would not justify the expense paid by all of the town’s taxpayers.
Compounding the problem for condo associations are the rules and regulations in condominium documents that can range from requiring a majority vote of the board of directors for approval of a charging station to a favorable vote by 75 percent of the unit owners.
“You can’t spend everyone else’s money to benefit one individual or a small group of individuals,” says Ron Clark, a veteran condominium and association manager.
As questions arise, condo boards and managers are seeking guidance on how to proceed.
“A week doesn’t go by when I don’t get a call from a condo manager,” says Anne-Lousie Seabury, electric vehicle program manager for Florida Power & Light Co. “They’re wondering where to start.”
The answer is not an easy one.
“I’ve worked with a lot of condos and every one is different,” she says.
The issue has come up so frequently that FPL has put together a fact sheet, available online, that includes a section on how to overcome the five biggest barriers to installing charging stations in multiunit buildings.
Those obstacles listed are:
• Gaining approval from building management and the homeowners associations,
• Determining who is responsible for equipment and installation costs,
• Determining the most equitable payment system for electricity consumption,
• Planning the most cost-effective installation, and
• Facilitating potential changes to assigned parking for lower-cost installation.
For their part, condo association managers and leaders say that at this point there aren’t usually enough electric-car owners living in condos to make installations of community charging stations an issue.
That was the consensus during the October meeting of the Beach Condominium Association of Boca Raton and Highland Beach, according to Jack Fox, president of the group, which includes the managers, directors and officers of 63 communities.
“At this point the feeling is that there aren’t that many people with electric cars,” Fox said. “I think going forward, if electric cars become more prevalent, condos will respond to the demand.”
In the short term, he says, some condos are allowing owners to have charging stations in their garage parking spots, but they’re asking them to pay for the full cost of installation and the electricity they use.
That’s exactly what happened at The Yacht and Racquet Club of Boca Raton.
During the summer, Rev. David M. Franco, O.S.F.S., a retired priest from Michigan living in a condo he inherited from his parents, purchased a pre-owned Nissan Leaf and went to his condo association to let the manager know he wanted to install a charging station that he could use in the garage.
“The manager said as long as I pay for the installation and my own electricity, it’s fine,” Franco recalls.
After doing a bit of research, Franco discovered that the costs of buying a Level 2 charging station —which can charge his Leaf in just a few hours — and installing it, were fairly affordable.
The charging station itself cost about $1,100, while running the necessary wiring from the garage electrical panel cost about $900.
In addition, Franco paid an extra $50 for a meter that measures the amount of electricity he uses. Every quarter he sends a check to the condo association, which pays for electricity used in common areas. The first check, written for four months, came to just $67.50.
Since he installed the charging station, Franco has received inquiries from a few other neighbors with electric cars, including one in his building who has a parking spot close enough to Franco’s so that he could share the charging station.
Franco says he has a chart near the charging station so he and his neighbor, who hasn’t brought his electric car down yet, will be able to keep track of who uses what.
While Franco’s is a success story, he says that the idea of a community-wide charging station —activated by credit cards — is not gaining much traction at the condominium.
“The problem is people have to look at electric cars not as a novelty but as a mode of transportation,” he said.
For her part, Magill — the attorney from Becker & Poliakoff — says she hopes associations will seek ways to accommodate electric cars in the future and possibly see charging facilities as something that could attract other electric car owners.
“I would advise my clients to look at alternatives, because charging facilities are an amenity that could benefit the entire community,” she said.
Wittenberg, who is driving her gasoline-powered Toyota Prius while the Chevy Volt remains in Michigan, says she may bring the Volt down in the future if there is a charging station closer than the public charging stations in Delray Beach. “There should be something available nearby where we can pay for the electricity that we use and need,” she said. “If they build it, they will come.”