Landlords Vs Tenants With Electric Cars: The Latest Round

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2012 Chevrolet Volt

2012 Chevrolet Volt

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Garages in single-family homes are relatively easy to wire for electric-car charging; shared garages in multifamily residences often aren't.

Therein lies much frustration, not only for plug-in car drivers but also their landlords.

The latest episode hit the airwaves last Wednesday, when KGO-TV in San Francisco aired a clip about Richard Wiesner, whose landlord was forbidding him to plug his Chevrolet Volt into a 110-Volt outlet in the multi-car garage underneath his high-rise apartment building.

Wiesner wasn't asking Trinity Management for any alterations; he just wanted to use the plug 3 feet from the end of his assigned parking space.

He offered to pay for all power he used, which in the case of the Volt would have been at most 12 kilowatt-hours per day--or less than $2 at California's average electricity rate of 14.4 cents/kWh.

The landlord e-mailed Wiesner a note saying, "Trinity Management Services does not approve such requests."

Frustrated, Wiesner contacted both the ABC station's "7 On Your Side" and the San Francisco Tenants Union for help. The building owner, management company, and building manager all declined to speak to the media.

Wiesner's challenges are eerily reminiscent of Ottawa Volt owner Mike Nemat's situation in January, when his landlord refused to allow him to plug in his car in the parking structure attached to his condo.

These kinds of confrontations are likely to spread as plug-in car sales rise. But here are the challenges:

  • Standard 110-Volt plugs in garages may be of widely varying qualities and not sufficiently robust for the power draw of continuous plug-in car charging;
  • In California and elsewhere, landlords must install a sub-meter if they are legally to charge tenants for electricity used--which costs money;
  • If one tenant is allowed to charge a plug-in car, that same privilege may have to be extended to all tenants;
  • Depending on the building's rate plan, additional use could kick it into a higher-cost rate bracket; and
  • Landlords do not provide fuel for gasoline vehicles, so why should they provide it for electric cars?

At the moment, it appears that Wiesner in San Francisco and Hemat in Ottawa are out of luck--as others in multiple dwellings may be as well.

What do you think? Are landlords within their rights to ban electric-car charging in their garages? Should tenants have unlimited rights to plug into any power outlet in their buildings' garages?

Or can there be a happy compromise somewhere in the middle?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (61)
  1. This should probably be similar to ADA issues. There should be a law to require "reasonable accommodation" to EV owners. In other words, they should work out some compromise and not have the landlord just say no.

  2. too many laws already. businesses should not be forced to be run a certain way.

  3. As a fan of free markets I would normally support your view, but this is going to be such a growing problem that mandates will have to be introduced at some point.
    For example, I think in the above case there's no genuine reason not to install a power outlet, so it should be forced if desired - BUT but the person who wants the metered plug has to pay for its installation, not the landlord. I think that's fair.

  4. Gavin, with respect (and I am a fan), but I think you got this partly wrong.

    This person is renting the apartment. Any improvements to the building will permanently benefit the landlord. Tenents are typically only in an apartment for a couple of years. The idea that the tenent should bare the full cost is misguided.

  5. Don't you feel just a little ridiculous comparing the ownership of an electric vehicle with with a permanent disability. Allowing you to charge you car is not remotely similar to needing a wheelchair ramp into the apartment. Look at me everybody, I bought a Volt, that puts me in a protected class, just as if I were a quadriplegic. Reasonable accommodation would be make the landlord an offer he can't refuse, pay for the privilege, don't drive a coal powered car, or live elsewhere. I know, why don't you buy an apartment complex and then you can set the rules. I forgot, the world revolves around you and your needs.

  6. More folks probably live in condos these days than for lease apartments, so this situation is probably much less likely. My condo board was receptive to the idea of running level 2 circuits
    to all the parking spaces. A meter called a Kill-A-Watt would serve just fine for measurements and costs about $20, which I'm sure the tenant would provide. But the law only requires a meter if the landlord issues monetary charges. If the tenant offers so much per night for the juice, I see no legal requirement for a meter, which is solely to protect the tenant in the first place.
    The circuit needs to be examined and possibly altered, to insure
    no continuous overloads. Level 2 and level 3 chargers will likely make all these issues moot.

  7. The term level 3 is a misnomer. There is no level 3 in either AC or DC charging. What we have in the marketplace is AC Level 1 (110V), AC Level 2 (220V) and DC Level 2 (also known as DC Fast Charge). DC Fast Charging is the most expense option and requires serious infrastructure support (transformer size, etc.) and can only be found in commercial settings at present.

  8. DC Fast charging and Supercharging are both classified as Level 3.

  9. Perhaps readers aren't aware of the limitations of any electrical
    circuit. Take a 120 Volt circuit, typically either 15 or 20 amps and wired with either 12 (20amp) or 14(15 amp) gauge wire. The circuit will typically have 5 or 6 outlets and perhaps a light switch or two. You can overload the circuit simply by plugging two 1200 watt hairdryers into a single outlet, even if none of the other outlets or lights are being used. Circuits are designed to handle the "typical" load to be expected under normal circumstances and breakers are installed to take care of those occasions when the load is not typical. A heavy, continuous load (hours duration) will heat up the wire but not trip the breaker.
    Circuits are rated for continuous loads.

  10. Well, the only real problem here is if the circuit is shared between two EVs. Then the circuit breaker will trip.

    In any case, the wires are rated to carry the full load (15 or 20 amps) without creating a hazard.

  11. Thanks for the information. I did realize load might be an issue, but I was not aware of the specifics you mentioned. That said, EV's are not so widespread that condo/apartments will have many charges on one circuit. Further, to the extent that is an issue, permitting could simply be limited to one permit per circuit. I'm not certain, but I doubt one charge on one circuit would be an issue, as I charge my volt on the same circuit as all my kitchen appliances and have never had a short.

  12. Right,the Volt is 1200 watts and the circuit can probably supply 2400 watts.

  13. While the language is not perfect, EV owners in these circumstances should check out California Sentate Bill 209 and then the revised 880 to see if it can help their situation.

  14. Unfortunately those apply to Condominium owners or homeowners in HOAs NOT tenants. Tenants do not have a legal basis (at this point) to demand EV support other than to offer more rent. This is the same situation with any other upgrade (solar, a hot tub, new floor, etc.). Best to negotiate it when you have leverage rather than after you're already in.

    Wnat to change it? Contact the CPUC... at least in California.

  15. It is common for a residential lease to include utilities. Thus, landlords could just offer EV charging permits to tenants for, say, $50/month (and could have a higher rate for Leafs). With this approach, no metering would be required. And the concern over moving up a tier is unrealistic in almost every scenario, so accounting for that problem is not needed.

  16. At that kind of rate you could drive a volt about 1200 miles a month. How is that reasonable?

  17. I'm not sure I understand your comment, so forgive me if my response is off. My Volt charges for around $1 per charge ($1.40 in other places). If I fully charge once per day, that's $30 in electricity costs per month. You could conceivably charge twice per day on a 110, which would be $60/month, but that's unlikely, since charging takes 10 hours. What's more likely is a number of partial charges, and about $25 monthly electricity. That means the landlord would make $25 per month profit (assuming no other issues).

  18. of course landlords are in their right.

    tenants are also in their rights to move.

    if and when evs become common, good ole competition starts to play.

    landlords with meters placed in for ev drivers will have the advantage.

    the more evs there are, the more landlords there will be, with electric plugs for the evs.

  19. If the circuit can handle the load, the landlords are clearly in the wrong. They are prohibiting something that will not have any negative impact on themselves and discouraging EV ownership with will have a negative impact on everyone.

  20. I disagree about who was in the wrong. The car owner was negligent.
    For one thing, EV cars really are a new, relatively niche market - a neat car gadget among the masses of cars. It is not the responsibility of any landlord to accommodate the latest gadgets.
    Even if it were mainstream, how could they be required in any way to accommodate that, whether or not it would hurt or benefit them? Besides, we don't know the state of the electrical circuit to which the car is to be attached. It may be a liability.
    Most fundamentally: they might not be under any obligation to have parking for cars in the first place. Nor do they need to allow mirrors in the building. Now, not having those may drive away potential customers, but let the markets decide.

  21. exactly - landlords will be forced to compete with other landlords.

  22. I am really puzzled by the view that as long as market forces push landlord into accommodating EVs it is OK, but if it is a legal requirement it is not.

  23. This is pretty simple. Landlords are forced to comply with all sorts of requirements having to deal with safety, discrimination, ADA, etc because the public sees this as an important benefit to society. Heck we have apartments in our town that were forced to put in a playground and run a 24 hour/day shuttle to the train station.

    If EVs offer environmental benefits, improved balance of trade, and reduced CO2 emissions, then society can force some sort of accommodation.

  24. I would suggest the individual review Senate Bill 880 in the state of California to review the rights and restrictions that have been captured in this bill that was signed by the governor on 2/29/12.

  25. I can see both sides, but I wonder why a renter would make an expensive purchase and just assume it would be OK to plug in. I am an EV proponent and have two plug-in cars myself. But I own the home and have level 2 installed in my driveway. If I still rented, I would want binding approval in writing before making a purchase decision.

  26. With a lot of these things, it is better to ask forgiveness than permission. If he had asked, the answer would have been "no" because it is easy to say "no."

    The hope probably would be that no one would notice or care, which should have been the case.

    Do you ask for permission to plug in your laptop at the airport? at a cafe? I doubt it.

  27. You are correct. If I visit a place, I can try to get away with whatever I want, and if they tell me "No," then it is entirely their right and I run the risk of running my computer out of battery.

    But, to Joe's point, if the only place I was going to plug in my computer was at the airport or a cafe and it was going to be bricked otherwise, I think I might make certain I could plug it in instead of counting on sneaking it into the outlet every day and then making a fuss that they wouldn't let me.

  28. Firstly, it is a Volt and I don't think bricking will be an issue.

    This is a common way to start a legal action. The tenant now has a complaint and can begin proceeding that may benefit everyone.

    In no way comparable, but Rosa Parks didn't just happen to be sitting at the front of the bus, she did it deliberately to force the issue. Sometimes that is the only way to get change. Again, in no way comparable.

  29. On an unrelated note, the local B&N bookstore has a Starbucks inside and near one of the tables is an outlet. People tended to stay too long at the outlet, so the owner blocked it off.

    I was amused to see that the owner restored the function of the outlet. Ah the uncertainties of outlet protocol.

  30. in other words, do something that you know you dont have the right to do, but whine and complain when you get caught.

    with that sort of logic, you gotta be a liberal !!!

  31. @EV Enthusiast: Warning from your friendly site moderator: Please leave political name-calling OUT of our comments section. Please stick to discussing the facts of the article. OK?

  32. hi john,

    i am not surprised that you gave me a friendly warning.

    however, i am not a bit sorry for the comment.

    society is too tolerant. we are allowing the govt to take too much control, and we are becoming a socialistic society, more and more dependent on the govt.

    it is the absolute opposite from what this country was founded upon.

    it is one thing to take advantage of a situation. but then to complain about something that was a non-given luxury in the first place, just sets a spark in me.

    too many people are interested only in themselves. and they lack responsibility for their actions, cuz they have never been taught such.

  33. "they lack responsibility for their actions" cuts both ways and applies to both landlord and tenant.

  34. As a landlord I encountered a similar problem recently when a tenant failed to inform me that he had a diesel truck and was plugging in the block heater all night every night to make it start-able in the morning. I didn't know until the December electric bill spike $40. As a landlord it's frustrating after you've tried to cover every possibility and still find yourself facing the unforeseen.

    Mr. Wiesner should be commended for being so up front about it with his landlord. For me, if my tenants are that forthcoming, I will try to make an accommodation. His landlord did not have to bill him separately - he could simply up the rent by a reasonable amount and be done with it. Why the big push back??

  35. Better Place in Israel will not sell you a car until a site visit to your home has successfully established that charging will be possible. They then install a Level 2 charger and will take care of explaining to landlords or condo boards that they will not pay for the electricity.

    It's one of the benefits of buying a whole package not just a car with a plug. I will pay for this over time with the subscription of course, but at least I have backup when talking to Luddite building owners and committees.

  36. Can't we all just get along? Why don't the tenants gather together with landlords/management to figure out what's the likelihood/demand for EVs, plug-in hybrids, charging stations and parking spots within the building/complex? Tenants pay the estimated cost of charger installation (probably no more than an installation for a private house) while building management picks up the other cost--insurance, site approvals, etc.--on the condition that they'll make up that cost by charging for use? If management can't float the cost (And I'm sure they could), get providers and third parties--like Aerovironment or Chargepoint or others--to join in the project. would seem like a win-win-win, no?

  37. I have a Nissan Leaf, and I charge it in my assigned parking space in the basement garage of the Nettleton Condos in Memphis, TN, where I live. However, I had Eco Totality install a level 2 charger connected to my condo unit's metered power. The DOE paid for the charger and the installation. I would side with the land lord in the case you presented. It's the car owner's responsibility to install a charger connected to his metered electric service. Any competent electrician can do this. It just costs money. I was lucky that I got covered by the EV Project in Tennessee, and had the cost covered by the DOE Grant.

  38. I wonder how many people would be willing to make a $2000 capital improvement to a property they do not own and that capital improvement will benefit the landlord when you leave.

    Perhaps some form of cost sharing on an install would be reasonable.

    But again, in this case, a plug already existed. Unless the breaker was tripping, there should have been some accommodation.

  39. I have a Chevy Volt and do not expect anybody to pick up the tab for the electricity I use to charge my battery. It would cost the landlord (using CA's power rates and the user's implied consumption) $60-$70 a month. There's no free lunch.

  40. ..."Wiesner wasn't asking Trinity Management for any alterations; he just wanted to use the plug 3 feet from the end of his assigned parking space.
    He offered to pay for all power he used, which in the case of the Volt would have been at most 12 kilowatt-hours per day--or less than $2 at California's average electricity rate of 14.4 cents/kWh.
    The landlord e-mailed Wiesner a note saying, "Trinity Management Services does not approve such requests."

    It shouldn't have been a big deal, an agreement should have been reached. He wasn't asking for free energy, or even to install a L2 charging station, just to use the standard 120v that was 3 feet away and would pay for the energy. I agree, the landlord should know and be paid back. But just no?

  41. Landlord can get free chargers installed (Coulombo) and PG&E will install a seperate meter for $200..

  42. thanks to the Department of Energy

  43. How do you get a free charger?

  44. What would Jesus the landLord do?

  45. Tell the Volt owner to sell all his worldly possession and follow him to spread the good word?

  46. By the way Mike Nemat, Ottawa VOLT owner SOLD his Condo apartment and bought a house with a private garage !! He had no choice since the Condo Board choice was a clear NO.

  47. If the circuits in the garages were put in expecting 600 watt engine block heaters, then perhaps three outlets might be on one 20 amp breaker.

    The Chevy Volt does pull more electricity, 1200 watts, so at most, only two Chevy Volts could be on one circuit, not three.

    But given the overnight charging of the Chevy Volt, it seems unlikely to conflict with other uses of the branch circuit other than EVs and block heaters.

    A little bit of planning could allow him to charge his Volt, then they just need to figure out how to have him pay for the electricity at perhaps $50/month.

  48. I am really puzzled by the view that as long as market forces push landlord into accommodating EVs it is OK, but if it is a legal requirement it is not.

    i will try not to be sarcastic, cuz i am puzzled why anyone would not understand the difference.

    in one situation, a person has free choice. in another, the person is being forced by the govt.

    this is certainly a situation easily handled by doing nothing.

    as more and more evs come into being, more and more tenants will find it advantageous to live in an apartment where they can charge their car.

    landlords will adjust and provide the convenience - giving the tenant the option to pay for using it or not using it, and not being charged.

  49. the free market, at its best.

    the vendor has the choice to run his business as he desires.

    the customer has the choice of which businesses he wants to use.

    if we, as customers, dont like a business, then we dont go there. this is one way that we tell the business community what we like, and dislike.

    the business needs to consistently assess its mode of operation, to make sure that it is operating profitably (to a point, of course).

    if i was a current landlord, i would certainly attempt to do what i could. but it might not be a feasible expense, or it might cause liabilities that the landlord may not be prepared to handle.

    but now the landlord is at least aware of something he may need to address in the future, in order to compete.

  50. The problem is that this doesn't always work or work quickly enough. Think, automotive safety, CAFE standards, or equal rights. When every business is behaving the same bad way, you can't start the change.

  51. yes, it does not "work" as quickly as a mandate from the govt. but if we want our freedom, it is our best option.

    you are looking at it from the perspective of ev owner. you want some sort of mandate that landlords supply electric plugs for all their tenants ?

    just how many of these tenants currently need it ? you are forcing an expense on the landlord that wont be used by most.

    the most effective way of handling this problem is doing nothing, and allow competition to take over.

    homeowners do have the advantage, but lets face it - with today's ev prices, it is mainly homeowners who are buying them.

    there is never gonna be a system that works perfectly for every single person, at every single moment.

  52. today, apartment dwellers to not have the same ability to charge their evs. but the landlord, if he is a good one, probably also has long-term tenants, and both like one another.

    so he is gonna try to do what he can - thereby making his facility "ev-friendly". now, you have an apartment that is ev-friendly. and so the snowball begins to grow.

    allow the snowflake to develop naturally.

    everything will fall into place - just let nature take its course.

    if supply goes up, prices come down. more buyers, and eventually more apartment dwellers as owners, and more landlords with facilities for evs.

  53. "most effective way of handling this problem is doing nothing"

    Way to be pro-active.

    There are more stakeholders in this than the tenant and the landlord. There is a public that is impacted by air pollution. That is why a planning is needed rather than "doing nothing."

    I really don't have a specific plan for dealing with this, so let's not count up the costs yet. Some new buildings are forced to put in a cableway for EV charging, but not put in the wires or chargers. That seems like a reasonable compromise.

    Perhaps with buildings that have some existing outlets, tenants could use them if there is no fire or trip hazard.

    Perhaps there could be cost sharing for 220V installs.

  54. I was in Vermont one time with a broken water heater in the house. The plumber arrived and asked me what temperature I wanted to set the water heater to. I had no idea and asked what was "code".

    The plumber launched in to a long thesis about how this was a personal residence and the Vermont government can't control what goes on there that they can only set standard for rental or commercial properties and had no say about what I set my water temp to.

    Having no answer, I asked what would it need to be for a rental. Answer, 140F. Please set it to 140F.

    Sometimes helps to have some guidance as to the right course of action.

  55. When you rent an apartment electric service is part of the deal. If there is an existing plug that is near enough to your parking space you should be able to use it - whether or not it is metered to you. If it isn't near enough, you should be able to run an extension cord from your unit to your parking space - and if there is a safety or sight offensive issue with that, it should fall on the owner of the property to find a way to fix it, not the renter that pays for a unit with electric service. A 110 charger pulls no more electicity than an hair dryer or microwave, so it is not something that should be denied. Exhaust fumes from ICE's raise the cost of parking garages (Ventilation req.) so this is not something that different.

  56. do you really think that the cost of the electricity to charge an ev is comparable to that of using a hair dryer ???????

  57. I would be a little careful with extension cords that might cost fire risk or trip hazards.

    But in this guy's case, a 3 foot long cord should not have been denied. But there is a reasonable question about the $50/month electricity bill.

  58. this is simply another thing that needs to be changed. we all laugh when obscure laws still on the books surface that were designed for horses instead of cars. this is no different. its simply move into the EV age and the 21st Century or get left behind.

  59. being pro-active is not always a good thing. in fact, very often in life, doing nothing works best.

    some people tend towards knee-jerk reactions that get them in trouble.

    doing nothing in this situation - the problem solves itself.

    absolutely no need to get the govt involved, and mess things up further. LET NATURE TAKE ITS COURSE.

  60. Couldn't they just install a power pole and pay for their own power?

  61. I'm glad I own my own house with my own 3 car garage. That is ridiculous. He should be allowed to charge his vehicle. Especially since he is not altering anything and just wants to use the 110 outlet. He's paying the electric bill himself correct? The landlord should just be glad he has a good paying tenant.

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