Over the past year, community boards have faced an increasing number of requests from owners wishing to install electric car charging stations (“ECCS”) in their assigned common element or limited common element parking spots. Given the growing popularity of fuel efficient vehicles, community boards can only expect to receive mounting requests of this nature in the future. In this article, we will explore a number of issues that community boards should consider with respect to the installation and maintenance of ECCS.
First, some information about the technology itself and possible risks associated with it: this article focuses solely on single-unit charging stations running on residential current. More sophisticated units, able to charge several vehicles at once or to "fast charge" a single vehicle, are quite sophisticated and typically offered only by utilities or municipalities.
However, even a home ECCS is more sophisticated and faster than charging off a standard house wall socket using an extension cord. The risks involved include a car driving away without properly uncoupling from the charger; overheating of the electrical circuits; and failure of the grounding protection. Moreover, because the technology is new, safety measures and technical standards are evolving rapidly. A system that is acceptable today may fail new, higher standards next year.
So, given these uncertainties, there are six major points of consideration that community boards need to keep in mind in developing a policy that would permit an owner to install an ECCS: (1) Type of equipment, (2) Installation, (3) Maintenance, (4) Indemnification and Release, (5) Insurance and (6) Termination. We will briefly address each of these points below and recommend that community boards adopt a policy addressing all of these concerns.
Initially, the equipment proposed for installation should meet all existing technical standards. Currently, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is leading the drive to develop uniform standards in the US. Beyond those, the planned installation may need to meet requirements from the local jurisdiction (state/county/city) and the local power provider.
Owners should submit complete plans and specifications drawn up by by a licensed and insured professional. The board should retain the authority to turn down the proposal based on the recommendations of its own independent professional, whose judgment will be final.
Assuming the proposal is approved, the actual installation must be carried out by a properly insured and bonded professional after the owner has obtained all necessary permits and delivered copies of them to the board. The policy should provide clearly that costs of installation, maintenance and repair of the ESSC are the sole responsibility of the applying owner.
The policy should also outline clearly the maintenance responsibilities with respect to the ECCS. These responsibilities may include a requirement for the periodic inspection of the ECCS and providing evidence, such as a certificate from a qualified inspector, that the ECCS is in good working order and safe. The board also needs to consider how the electrical costs associated with the ECCS will be paid for.
A sub-metering requirement could be imposed or a base monthly rate could be charged based on professional estimates. In either case, the board should reserve the right to increase charges to meet increases in costs of electrical service.
As part of the policy, we also recommend that the board require an applying owner to sign a written agreement indemnifying and holding the community (and its officers, employees and agents) harmless from claims related to the installation and operation of the ECCS. Evidence of an insurance policy covering the ECCS should also be provided.
Finally, the board should also reserve a right to terminate the privilege to maintain the ECCS. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, the board will want to maintain this right in order to force an upgrade in equipment as the technology develops, standards evolve, and newer equipment is proven safer. Secondly, the board needs the termination power as a way to sanction an owner in the event that the ECCS is not operated in accordance with the community policy. Additionally, the board will want to have the authority to remove the ECCS in the event that common area repairs or renovations are ever required involving the affected areas. Lastly, the community board will want to reserve the right to remove the ECCS in the event that an owner sells his unit and/or assigns his parking space to another party. In this regard, the board may require an initial deposit from the applying owner in the event that removal is ever required.
Fuel efficient vehicles and similar developing technologies are going to require community boards to ensure that their associations have the appropriate safeguards in place in the near future.