Home Owner Associations & Electric Cars: How To Make It Work (Advice From A Pro)

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Renault Fluence ZE charging at Better Place charge point in apartment bldg [photo: Brian of London]

Renault Fluence ZE charging at Better Place charge point in apartment bldg [photo: Brian of London]

Residents of condominiums and other multiple dwellings who drive plug-in electric cars are fast becoming a challenge for the managers and boards that run those buildings.

Early this month, a $450 charging cable was destroyed by a vandal in a Venice, Florida, condominium parking garage while it was plugged into a 2013 Chevrolet Volt.

MORE: Chevy Volt Charging Cord Cut: Angry Neighbor, Electric-Car Hater?

That story generated fierce and voluminous discussion, much of which highlighted the essential problem: The Home Owner Associations, or HOAs, that oversee operations at condos often have no background in electric cars.

Vandalized charging cord from 2013 Chevrolet Volt, Venice, Florida [photo: M Cummings / J Brown]

Vandalized charging cord from 2013 Chevrolet Volt, Venice, Florida [photo: M Cummings / J Brown]

Sweetening the idea

Consequently, their reactions to a request by an electric-car owner to plug into a garage receptacle can range all over the map--and other residents may react to use of that electricity as a "theft" from the assocation.

But there are many avenues available for electric-car owners to help educate HOA members and pave the way for fair and amicable policies around use of electric plugs in common areas to recharge.

Laura Harris is CEO of The Property Group, a association-management company in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Her company manages "about 20 condominiums with common-area parking garages," she said, but so far, "we only have two that have owners or renters with plug-in vehicles."

MORE: Landlords Vs Tenants With Electric Cars: Study Proposes Solutions

Harris also owns a 2013 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car, so she's perfectly placed to discuss practical ways to address the new and complex issues posed when the first electric-car owning resident asks to plug in.

2013 Chevrolet Volt

2013 Chevrolet Volt

This article is adapted with permission from comments she posted in a Chevy Volt owners' Facebook group, along with further direct discussion to clarify some points.

Do your homework

First, Harris says, electric-car owners must "communicate with the Association Manager and arrange for Board Approval prior to charging with an Association's common element utilities."

"Be willing to work for it," she advises. Don't simply expect the HOA to accommodate such a request without discussion.

"Seek out the full Board of Directors, not just one board member," she says--and be prepared to do a lot of explaining.

One member, perhaps even the association president, may be dead-set against letting the tenant charge--but other members may be more open-minded.

Above all else, she said, "Come to the Board with workable options" for respectful use of this common resource.

Money, money, money

Money, money, money

Pay your way!

Second, and crucially, Harris advises, condo tenants with electric cars must stress over and over that they want to pay their own way.

That means not only for the power they use, but any installation costs for a charging station (if necessary) or sub-metering--and perhaps even a nominal surcharge on top of the electricity cost.

Many residents may assume that plugging in an electric car is equivalent to the cost of filling their gas tanks: $30 or $50 each time.

It's generally an eye-opener when the electric-car owner points out that a full recharge on a Volt is about 12 kilowatt-hours, which at a cost of 11 cents each comes to an overnight total of less than $1.50 for 30 to 40 miles of range.

Combine that with an offer to pay a surcharge on the monthly common fees, and slowly, other residents may come around.

Some of them may start to think about the very low per-mile operating costs of running an electric car, and--perhaps--how that might apply to their own driving habits.

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