In 2009, electric vehicles (EVs) were rare. They were unattractive to consumers due to their high initial cost and limited driving range. This meant that their challenge to strata buildings was only on the horizon.
However, much has changed in the past few years. Specifically: EV prices are now much closer to the prices of gasoline-powered vehicles (some are in the $30,000-$35,000 range) and the driving range of EVs is significantly higher (although most EV models are limited to distances of 60-140 km per charge, one EV manufacturer has a model with an impressive driving range of 420 kilometres). These days, publicly accessible charging stations are being installed across BC and North America, making long-distance or inter-city EV driving achievable.
These developments mean that many more strata owners and their strata corporations are now facing demands to accommodate the charging needs of EVs. The Pembina Institute estimates that one-third of BC vehicles could be electric by 2030. Lack of EV charging capability is already becoming a barrier to resale of units in some strata buildings. This barrier will become more noticeable as more EVs are sold in BC, leading to loss of market value in strata buildings that are not equipped to accommodate them.
The complexity and cost of installing an EV charging station in a strata building depends upon the type of strata, its current parking arrangements and the adequacy of its electrical system. Each EV plug-in location will require some a change to a building’s electrical system and installation of a dedicated circuit.
In bare land and many townhouse strata developments, the strata lot owner is responsible for maintenance of the electrical system within the home and garage. Where this is the case, the strata owner may take action (subject to strata bylaws and building and electrical codes) to install an EV charging outlet inside the garage and directly pay BC Hydro for the added cost of electricity consumption. However, in most strata situations (such as multi-family condo buildings), electric wiring is part of the common property and it is necessary for EV owners to work with the strata council and other strata owners. These situations will require identifying which parking stalls should have EV charging outlets, determining the cost of necessary changes to the electrical system and establishing and collecting of a new type of user fee.
Costs and Requirements
The current cost of installing a type of “charging station” station that can charge two cars at the same time is about $10,000 (you may have seen some of these in public places). This type of charging station has the capability (if a network subscription fee is paid) to bill the user directly and enables the strata corporation to recover the cost of installation and electrical consumption. Alternatively, two EV charging outlets (without the features of a “charging station”) could be installed for as little as $2,500. A separate meter for a group of EV charging outlets is permitted by BC Hydro and would help ensure that any user fee covers the cost of electricity used. As one might expect, the installation cost per station or per outlet declines as the number of outlets or stations increases. Also, costs will vary from one strata building to another due to variations in both wiring distance and the complexity of modifications/upgrades needed to install the new circuits.
Regardless of the type of charging station or charging outlet chosen, the strata corporation will require owner approval (by a three-quarter vote): to make a bylaw that establishes a user fee for a charging station, to make any common property alterations or reallocations needed for installation of the stations and to spend any strata funds on the project.
A user fee levied by a strata corporation must be reasonable and set out in either a bylaw or rule. Section 128 of the SPA (Strata Property Act) requires a three-quarter vote at a general meeting for such a bylaw. In the absence of a bylaw for a new user fee, under section 125(6) a strata council may make a rule for the fee but that rule would lapse unless approved by a majority vote of owners at the subsequent general meeting.
Changing the Use of Common Property
Section 71 (a) of the SPA requires a three-quarter vote at a general meeting before making “a significant change in the use or appearance of common property”. Installation of a charging station would change the appearance of the common property and may be viewed by some as changing the appearance “significantly”. Furthermore, conversion of “visitor parking” stalls to “EV charging only” stalls would clearly be a significant change in use of common property. Also, if the charging station project would result in reallocation of assigned parking stalls it would mean redesignation of “limited common property” and require resolutions passed by a three-quarter vote under sections 74 and 75 of the SPA.
Even though, over time, all costs should be recoverable through user fees, a strata project to install charging stations will require an initial expenditure of contingency reserve funds. This expenditure must receive prior approval by a three-quarter vote of owners under section 96 of the SPA. The strata corporation will also need to adjust its operating budget to cover the cost of maintaining EV charging.
A strata corporation is advised to consult a qualified electrical contractor and a strata lawyer when planning and implementing an EV charging station project. Also, the strata council will need to prepare carefully and fully inform owners about any EV charging station proposal before taking it to a general meeting. Remember that a three-quarter vote will be required on several important resolutions to enable the project to move ahead. Most strata unit owners will not be owners of EVs, so it will be essential to demonstrate how costs will be recovered and how there will be a benefit to all owners.