In January 2019, Michigan’s first electric vehicle charging infrastructure program was approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC). The Consumers Energy PowerMiDrive initiative includes a $10 million, three-year pilot program to support installations of electronic vehicle charging infrastructure for homes, residences, and multi-unit dwellings. The initiative will utilize rebates and consumer education to encourage participation in the program. Hot on its heels, DTE Energy also has a proposal before the MPSC to expand electric vehicle charging. With initiatives like these coming into effect, Associations can anticipate an increase in co-owner requests for modifications to install electric vehicle charging stations.
The State of Michigan does not currently regulate the installation of electric vehicle charging stations. Therefore, the Association must consider several factors when it receives a co-owner’s request to install an electric vehicle charging station. These factors include the type of equipment the co-owner is requesting in order to charge their vehicle, the plans and specifications provided by the co-owner for any proposed modification to the unit or the Common Elements, the credentials of the proposed installer, and review by the Association’s experts.
I. Types of Equipment for Charging an Electric Vehicle
There are three different levels of charging equipment available for electric vehicles, ranging from Level 1 to Level 3. Level 1 is the slowest charging option and provides electricity to the vehicle through a 120-volt alternating current plug, which allows the vehicle to be charged by plugging a cord into an ordinary household electric outlet. Oftentimes, a co-owner’s garage will already include such an outlet that the co-owner can use to charge their vehicle. Level 2 is a faster charging option and provides electricity to the vehicle through a 240 volt or 208-volt electrical service, which is typically hardwired to the existing electrical systems. Level 3 is the fastest charging option and provides electricity to the vehicle through a 480-volt direct current (DC) plug. While this is the fastest way to charge a vehicle, it is typically designed for outdoor use and is commonly found at public fueling stations.
II. Submission of Request by Co-owner to Install an Electric Vehicle Charging Station
An Association will presumably receive a request from a co-owner for approval to install a Level 2 Charging station, rather than a Level 1 or Level 3 Charging station. As previously referenced, there is typically an existing outlet in the unit’s garage that can be utilized for Level 1 Charging, and the cost and difficulty to install a Level 3 Charging station make it a less desirable option. To the extent a co-owner requests to install any equipment to assist them with charging their electric vehicle, the co-owner is required to comply with MCL 559.147(1) and the Condominium Documents, as the proposed modification will affect the General Common Element electrical system. The co-owner must submit plans and specifications to the Association for review and have the Association’s approval before making any modifications the Common Elements. Information regarding what Level Charging station, the specifications for the equipment that will be utilized, and the credentials for the contractor that will be used for the installation are essential for the Association to review the request. Additionally, the Association should require that the co-owner’s contractor have a general commercial liability policy and worker’s compensation coverage.
Once the Association has received the requisite information, it should have the request reviewed by a professional, whether it be an electrical engineer, the Association’s electrician, or a representative from the utility company, for their input regarding the proposed modification. The Association should also review the proposed modification with its insurance agent to determine its coverage under its existing policy. Generally, the Association’s governing documents provide that the Association is responsible for the maintenance, repair and replacement of the General Common Elements. However, the documents may also provide that a co-owner is responsible for any improvements, additions or modifications to the Common Elements. In reviewing whether to approve an electric vehicle charging station, an Association should also review the condominium documents to verify whether it will be taking on additional maintenance, repair and replacement obligations, should it approve of the installation. Furthermore, the Association should also consult the local municipality regarding any ordinances it may have in place regarding electric vehicle charging stations, as it is becoming more common to see local authorities providing some direction in this emerging market. In addition to the foregoing considerations for the proposed electric vehicle charging station, the Association should also factor in any aesthetic concerns it may have, as the Association still retains their architectural control rights in this review process. The Association typically has broad authority to deny a modification, including for any aesthetic reasons.
III. Responsibility for an Electric Vehicle Charging Station
After conducting a thorough review of the proposed plans and specifications for the co-owner’s request, if the Association determines that it is willing to grant approval for the modification, a written modification agreement should be prepared and entered into between the Association and the co-owner. This agreement will be recorded with the County Register of Deeds and will assign responsibility for the costs, maintenance, repair and replacement of the charging station, insurance, and damages resulting from the modification to the co-owner.
Depending on the type of charging station being requested and approved, it may be difficult to determine the cost of the increased electrical usage. If possible, a separate meter should be installed for the electric vehicle charging station to ensure that the co-owner is solely responsible for the costs of the increased usage. For example, according to DTE, to install a Level 2 charger in one’s home is relatively easy with the average cost, including the installation of an additional meter, being roughly $1,200.00. An added benefit of having a separate meter installed is that the co-owner can take advantage of discounted rates for electrical usage. DTE offers an “EV Plan” for usage during non-peak hours of 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. during the weekdays and anytime during the weekends. To take advantage of this plan, the installation of an additional EV-dedicated electric meter is required. The written agreement should also provide for periodic inspections of the charging station by a professional, with the results of that inspection to be provided to the Association. The co-owner should also be required to add coverage for the electric vehicle charging station to their homeowner’s insurance policy and add the Association as an additional insured. Keeping in mind that there is the potential the electric vehicle charging station may cause damage to individuals or other property, the modification agreement should also include that the co-owner is required to defend, indemnify and hold the Association harmless from any liability resulting from the modification. Finally, the written agreement should permit the Association to undertake any work that may be necessary for the maintenance, repair and replacement of the modification, and assess those costs to the co-owner.
IV. Additional Concerns Regarding the Overall Safety of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
The increase in production and availability of plug-in electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging stations has brought with it increased potential for vehicle and charging station fires. In their early days, a frequent cause of the fires was the type of battery being used in the vehicle, a defect that has since been cured with a change in the type of battery used in electric vehicles. Additional measures are typically also put into place to minimize the risk of fire. For example, built-in safety features of the charging station may include a charge circuit interruption shutdown device, an electrical ground monitoring circuit feature and an automatic shutdown feature if the charging cable itself is snagged and strained. Additionally, charging systems will typically implement several layers of redundant safety features to protect the user from potential electrical and fire hazards while connecting, disconnecting, and charging the vehicle. However, despite these enhancements, the vehicle itself may suffer from a defect, or user error may result in a fire risk. Recently, Ford recalled certain plug-in hybrid and electric cars because the charging cords could start a fire. With those vehicles, if they were not plugged into a dedicated circuit, or were on a damaged or worn circuit, it could cause wall outlets to overheat. Adding another layer to this story, some of the owners of these vehicles were using an extension cord to power their vehicle, which Ford specifically advised against. While Ford replaced the cords with ones that can sense high temperatures and shut off charging, a co-owner’s error in not following the owner’s manual could also expose the Association to the risk of fire.
In order to reduce risk, if an electric vehicle charging station is to be approved by the Association, it should be a product that has undergone extensive safety testing and is safety certified. Additionally, periodic inspections should take place to ensure the electric vehicle charging station is in proper working condition. The co-owner should be responsible for providing the Association with evidence demonstrating that they have had the electric vehicle charging station inspected, and that it was found to be in working order. In the alternative, the Association should arrange to have the electric vehicle charging station periodically inspected, with the costs of the inspection to be assessed to the co-owner benefiting from the station.
Ultimately, there is no obligation for an Association to approve a co-owner’s modification request for an electric vehicle charging station. However, given the rise in “green” initiatives and the increased production of electric vehicles, it may only be a matter of time before an Association is compelled to alter its approach to follow these policy trends and enact a procedure for how to address these requests from co-owners. Taking a proactive approach to the issue is certainly preferred and may assist the Association in navigating these unfamiliar issues as they become more prevalent, while also avoiding undue exposure to liability or lawsuits from displeased co-owners.
Sarah Karl is a Michigan Condominium Attorney at Makower Abbate Guerra Wegner Vollmer PLLC. Mrs. Karl focuses her practice primarily in the areas of Michigan Condominium Association and Michigan Homeowner Association law. Mrs. Karl is a member of the Community Associations Institute (CAI) and Real Property Law section of the State Bar of Michigan.