Ontario Condo Act a roadblock for electric vehicle owners

With Ontario struggling to hit ambitious goals for electric vehicle ownership, the province wants to get a conversation going on how to make the Condominium Act more friendly to electric vehicle owners. Right now condominium corporations faced with a growing number of requests to install charging stations are saying 'no.'

Province looking for input into making condos plug-in friendly

Tesla Model S on display at Plug'n Drive Discovery Centre in North York. The non-profit that encourages electric vehicle ownership hopes changes to the provincial Condominium Act will allow for charging stations in multi-unit buildings. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

Hoping to hit its ambitious goals for electric vehicle ownership, Ontario is looking to overhaul parts of the Condominium Act that have become an unexpected barrier to owning one.

Ontario's Ministry of Government and Consumer Services is gathering electric vehicle and condo groups together Monday and Tuesday to look at how revamping the act could encourage more electric vehicles on the roads.

Prospective buyers like Roxanne Wright have found that improvements in battery technology have made the cars affordable and desirable, but condo dwellers like her may have difficulty finding a place to plug-in.

The Brampton elementary school teacher said she took one look at a friend's Chevrolet Bolt and fell in love immediately.

"The moment I saw the car, it was like this is what I need," she said, adding that a test drive sealed the deal. "I don't need to pump any gas, no oil change. I mean it's good for the environment; it's good for me."

Elementary school teacher Roxanne Wright was shocked when her MIssissauga condo board refused to give her permission to install a charging station. She was willing to pay the $3,000 cost of installation. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

The car is so popular, she's on a waiting list to buy one, but in the meantime, she decided to check to make sure installing a charging station would be OK with her Mississauga condo. And that's when the problems started.

'Not ready to undertake this expense'

In an email response to her request, the condo corporation's board of directors said they were "not ready to undertake this expense at this point of time given the fact that there is only one request" and that they "represent all owners and cannot accommodate one owner against the other owners."

"I was surprised, because it's good for the environment and it's the way of the future. It's not like [electric vehicles] are going away," said Wright, adding she was willing to cover the $3,000 installation cost.

Cara Clairman, CEO of Plug'n Drive, a non-profit organization encouraging the use of electric vehicles in Ontario, says Wright's situation is becoming more and more common as condo boards are fielding a growing number of requests to install charging stations in parking garages.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Cara Clairman, CEO of Plug'n Drive, at recent electric vehicle demonstration. The province would like five per cent of all car sales to be electric by 2020. (CBC)

Clairman says more often than not boards are turning those requests down.

"Condo boards right now are a bit hesitant to get onboard with [electric vehicles]," says Clairman, adding that presents a practical problem for condo dwellers since most want to charge their vehicles at home overnight when it is most convenient and the cost of electricity is lowest.

Older the condo, bigger the job

Condo lawyer Chris Jaglowitz, a partner at Gardiner Miller Arnold LLP, represents many condo corporations in Toronto. He says there are too many unknowns — and too much risk — for some boards to approve the charging stations.

"They do have to look first and foremost to the rest of the units, to the value of the units, to safety, to cost and to the Condominium Act," said Jaglowitz.

That legislation governs how condominiums are run and what their boards must consider when modifications to common elements, like parking garages, are requested.

Chris Jaglowitz, a partner at Gardiner Miller Arnold LLP, says at present there are too many unknowns and too much risk for some boards to approve the charging stations. But changes to the Condominium Act could provide the needed clarity for boards, owners and builders. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Jaglowitz says the concerns are over whether the charging stations will have adverse affect for other units, create costs for the corporation and detract from the appearance of the building.

He expects that more condo boards will face an increasing number of requests by unit owners for electric-car charging infrastructure, but under the current legal framework, he advises against it. Particularly for older condominiums, rewiring their parking garages could be lengthy, complicated and costly projects.

'It's about time' to update Condo Act

But changes to the Condominium Act, which dates back to 1998, could provide condo corporations with needed clarity, said Jaglowitz.

"To their credit, the government is trying to find a way to make the Condo Act more responsive to this particular situation dealing with electric vehicle charging, so it's about time they are looking at it specifically," he said.

Both Clairman of Plug'n Drive and Jaglowitz will be part of the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services' consultation on changes to the Condominium Act, which is now almost 20 years old.

"With these revisions to the condo act coming up we could put something in that would suggest electric vehicle owners had the right to install," said Clairman.

California state law provides for the installation of electric vehicle charging stations in condo common areas, a titleholder's parking space or an exclusive-use common area, as long as the user pays for the installation, maintenance and repair of the station, as well as electricity use.

Still a minuscule market

Jaglowitz says Ontario would be wise to provide condo boards, property developers and condo residents with similar legal direction.

The province is encouraging electric vehicle use as part its Climate Change Action Plan which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 15 per cent below 1990  levels by 2020, 37 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050. 

In the next three years, Ontario would like five per cent of all new vehicle sales in the province be electric. That's about 14,000 vehicles a year. 

But it may have to hit the accelerator to get there. While electric car sales are growing, last year they still only accounted for half a per cent of all vehicle sales.

With condo populations skyrocketing, Jaglowitz says people who live in multi-unit buildings in urban communities who tend to drive shorter distances, will be a big part of the market.

While the province is encouraging people to buy electric vehicles through incentives, infrastructure, such as public charging stations and free electricity, Wrights says they forgot one piece of the puzzle.

"When they were putting a plan together they didn't really consider apartments and condos. We all have cars," she said.

About the Author

Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for CBC Toronto on television, radio and online. He is also a National Reporter for The World This Weekend on Radio One.

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