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Government: Law allows residents to install electric-vehicle-charging stations on condo property

Posted: February 10, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 10, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Common interest developments like Canyon Village condominium on Crossglade Avenue in Canyon Country are all now required by law to allow installation of electric vehicle charging stations.

 


One of the many 2012 California laws passed applying to common interest development, or condominiums, while possibly well-intended, also border on property right issues, say local experts.

Some of those laws directly impact property rights and potentially values, said Brad Watson, managing director of Property
Management Professionals. These laws are prime examples of government and lawmakers sometimes overreaching, he said.

Signed into law as a result of SB 209, the new law basically mandates that condominium associations allow residents to install electric-vehicle-charging stations on the premises.

While on the surface, this new law is in sync with the state’s goals to increase the number of fuel-efficient and battery-powered vehicles on the road, the twist is that the law now grants condominium owners the right to install charging stations  not always on their own personal property, but potentially in common areas owned by the association for the benefit of all residents, Watson said.

What prompted SB 209, authored by state Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, were complaints from people in associations that had no stations to charge their electric vehicles, said Andrew LaMar, director of communications for Corbett.

“Access is important to growth of the electric-vehicle industry,” LaMar said. “It’s just a matter of time before electric vehicles proliferate.”

Concerns were raised by trade associations, LaMar said. The Executive Council of Homeowners and the Community Associations Institute worked with Corbett on the initial legislation, he said, but in the end, both organizations declined to endorse it.

In signing the bill into law, Gov. Jerry Brown expressed reservations, but noted he was assured by Corbett that legislative efforts would follow to protect the right of common interest developments to establish reasonable rules for use of any common space. And indeed, Corbett’s SB 880 is an attempt to do just that.

Still, the bill will have to pass and become law before the concerns of homeowner associations are addressed, he said.

Land-use issues

“It’s potentially a slippery slope,” Watson said. “We now have a law that allows an owner to construct something in a common area, basically installing it on other peoples’ property.”

Allowing condo owners the right to install an electric-vehicle-charging station in a common area allows a managing party to install equipment on property it does not own exclusively. Common areas are jointly owned by every owner in an association, such as a community pool area.

And the new law is causing concern among associations as it deals with land-use rights, Watson said. While laws, such this one, and future growth in battery-powered-vehicle industry may change the way condominium properties are built in the future, the law could create a problem for existing properties, Watson said.

“This is seen by many as an overreach by lawmakers, setting a bad precedent and infringing on land-use rights,” Watson said.

However, common interest development associations are not left entirely without any power over the installation of charging stations, Watson said.

And the new bill aims to enhance the ability of those associations to manage the balancing act between providing condo owners access to electric charging stations and management of common-area property by associations.

Existing law

Under existing law, an association can set reasonable restrictions, as long as the restrictions do not significantly increase the cost of the station or decrease its efficiency of performance, Watson said.

While an association cannot strictly deny a homeowners application just because the charging station would be installed in a common area, an association can make reasonable requests, such as how the conduit or electrical lines are connected to the owner’s unit, he said.

Owners must hire a licensed and insured contractor to install the charging stations, and once installed, pay for electric charges for the charging station, maintenance and repairs.

And Watson advises that associations have the owners sign a “declaration of restrictions” detailing the owner’s obligation for any charging stations they install.

Associations are allowed to require an owner installing an electric-charging station on common-area property to have an indemnification agreement from the owner basically assuming responsibility for the station and releasing the association from liability from any problems arising from the piece of equipment installed in a common area.

“This would ensure that any subsequent purchaser of the separate interest would have constructive notice of their obligations in the event the seller failed to disclose the same,” Watson said.

And as the older properties weren’t designed for the installation of charging stations, Watson also advises that the owners be required to maintain an umbrella liability insurance policy with at least $1 million in coverage.

Proposed legislation

The legislation ensures that people who live in condominiums and other common interest developments have the ability to charge electric cars, Corbett said. It also makes the option of owning an electric vehicle feasible for more people, helping California move toward cleaner, more fuel-efficient automobiles.

In signing the legislation last summer, Brown favored the bill because it aids in lowering vehicle emissions and decreases dependency on foreign oil by promoting the use of electric vehicles.

The bill contains language that could permit individual homeowners to unreasonably use or occupy common areas, he said.

The Executive Council of Homeowners said the initial legislation was popular in California and the trade organization worked with Corbett to support the effort provided there were provisions to protect the association, as well.

“Unfortunately, final amendments were not included in the signed bill,” the association said in a press statement released the day after the bill was signed into law. “While the language does contain provisions that place any expense associated with the installation on the individual homeowner, other language remains that could negatively impact associations.”

Introducing SB 880, Corbett intends the new bill to take effect immediately as an “urgency stature” upon passage into law. The bill makes provisions for installation or use of an electric charging station in an owner’s designated parking space.

While the new bill still authorizes the installation of a charging station in a common area, it does so only  if installation in the owner’s designated parking space is impossible or unreasonably expensive.

And the proposed law allows either the association or an owner to install a charging station in a common area, without members of the association having to vote affirmatively, for the use of all association members. It also allows the association’s board of directors to develop terms of use for the charging station.

People have been interested and cooperative in trying to find a solution here, LaMar said.

“If you don’t have a designated spot and it’s a matter of using common area-a separate process that gives the association some wriggle room there,” LaMar said.

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