Who pays for a greener planet when you live in a condo?

As car manufacturers roll out more and more electric cars and hybrids, what rights do people have to plug in their vehicles? Apparently not many, according to an Ottawa lawyer.

People often don't realize what they own and what they don't in a condo, says Ottawa lawyer

Condominiums will likely have to consider solutions as more people purchase electric vehicles and expect to plug them in at their parking spots. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

As more and more electric cars and hybrids roll off the manufacturing line for people to scoop up, what happens if you live in a condo and don't actually own your parking spot?

Ottawa condo-owner Kimberly Hsiung is in a dispute with her condo board after it wouldn't let her plug in her Chevrolet Volt in her dedicated parking spot.

She said she offered to pay a set monthly fee to charge her car, which was denied.

The great misunderstanding? That people don't know what they own in a condo, said Rod Escayola, a lawyer with Gowlings WLG with an expertise in condo law.

"So you buy a car or a kayak or a 60 pound dog and you just bring it over and you're not asking yourself, 'well so, is that going to create a problem, right?' he told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

Kim Hsiung said her condo manager shut off her hydro after she started charging her electric car in her parking spot. (Elise von Scheel/CBC News)

While he can't comment on the specifics of Hsiung's case, Escayola said most condo owners don't actually own their parking spot, even if they're assigned a specific one.

Parking spots are considered a common element and he compares charging an electric car in the parking spot to charging it at a neighbours house.

"It's all about how much power an electric car uses compared to a vacuum or a block heater," he said.

"Nobody is opposed to apple pie. Everybody wants a greener planet, everybody wants world peace but the devil is in the details. How are you going to do this? And who's going to pay for this?"

Final decision is up to a condo board

But one reservation Escayola has is whether the power grid can handle a significant draw on it. 

If it can, then there shouldn't be an issue, he said. If a condo board isn't sure, they may need to bring in an electrician, "but then the question becomes, who should pay for the electrician?" Escayola said.

"People need to walk in with an open mind ready to resolve the issue and ready to compromise. For sure you could install a dedicated outlet. But there's a cost to that," he said. 

The good news is that a solution rarely involves lawyers.

Some solutions could be owners paying a specific fixed fee but that comes with other complaints, he said, including owners arguing that they don't plug-in in all the time or wondering how the board knows how much power the vehicle draws.

Consistency is key, Escayola advised, and it has to apply to all condo owners whether that means metering each parking spot or coming up with a set fee.

Don't like what your condo board is doing? Be on the board

Hsiung's condo board wrote to CBC News stating it "supports the idea of electric vehicles, however, it is the responsibility of the board to, on behalf of the condominium owners, protect and maintain common elements according to their intended design and purpose."

While many condominiums aren't prepared for electric cars, "people need to think forward and think of what kind of community can we build within our walls that fits within the system that we do have in place," Escayola said.

And if someone doesn't like the rules? Escayola suggests running to be elected to the board and then making changes.