Ottawa

Power struggle pitting electric car owners against condo boards rages on

Condo residents across the province are locked in power struggles with management boards over charging rights for electric vehicles, even though incoming regulations are supposed to simplify the process.

Ottawa woman giving up fight after condo board shut down her proposal

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)

Condo residents across the province are locked in power struggles with their management boards over charging rights for electric vehicles, even though incoming regulations are supposed to simplify the process. 

It's a problem that an Ottawa woman is all too familiar with.

Kimberly Hsiung's condo manager abruptly shut off her power this spring after finding out she was charging her electric vehicle in her unit's parking spot.

After searching for a solution for six months, hiring lawyers, consulting electricians and trying in vain to negotiate with her condo board to install an adequate charger, Hsiung hit a snag that she says is the final straw. 

The board told her an investigation and assessment would cost too much money, so she offered to finance the research.

"I would be willing to cover the cost of the investigation even if the outcome of the assessment is not what I am hoping for," she said Wednesday. "[The] property manager commented that I was trying to bribe the board to do what I want."

[The] property manager commented that I was trying to bribe the board to do what I want.- Kimberly Hsiung

She said they came up with excuses for every solution she offered. 

"They told me previously that they weren't doing anything about it because of the cost, so I said I could cover the cost, then they said it's not about the cost," she said.

"I think they made it pretty clear that they have the power and it's their decision."

Hsiung said she found the consultation process confrontational and said she's "officially given up" and is looking into selling her condo. 

"Other than the hostility I felt … I feel like the poor communication has created more work and frustration on all sides."

Hsiung's condo manager said in an emailed statement the board's decision remained the same throughout the process.

Condos killing the power on electric vehicles

The provincial government is changing building regulations to enable people to drive green. 

Amendments to the Ontario Building Code would force all new buildings, including condos, to have electric vehicle plugs in 20 per cent of parking spaces and make all remaining spots capable of eventually retrofitting for the outlets.

The changes are set to come into effect in January.

Condo residents don't often install industrial chargers like this one. Instead, they plug in the same way a block heater would. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

"This is becoming a legal matter province-wide," said Cara Clairman, CEO of Plug 'N Drive, a company that educates about the benefits of electric vehicles. 

She added the changes would also allow residents willing to pay to install chargers an easier road forward.

"It will help people willing to pay that they can't be refused with no basis." 

The Ontario Condominum Act states installing additions, like a charger, shouldn't currently be an issue either, as long as the infrastructure can handle it and an agreement is clearly spelled out between the corporation and the tenant.

Protocols for electric vehicle charging are not explicit in the act.

Back to square one

As the cars gain popularity, Clairman said it has sparked change among many condo boards. It's getting more common for them to retrofit their parking to allow the chargers, but she also acknowledged stories such as Hsiung's are still out there.

While the legality of charging electric cars is still under question, Clairman recommends doing as much research as possible before approaching your board, or risk duplicating Hsiung's dilemma. 

"That's pretty tough to fix," she said. "Sometimes it's best to go back to square one."

A neighbour who saw CBC's original story has offered to rent his garage to Hsiung so she can charge her car. 

"I've learned I'm probably not well-suited for condo living," Hsiung said. "For my own mental health I think this is something I'm trying to move on from."