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Connecticut environmental officials are pushing for legislation that would grant condo owners and renters the right to install their own car chargers, part of a broader effort to dramatically expand the state’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

The so-called right-to-charge legislation would prevent condominium and homeowners’ associations, as well as landlords, from prohibiting or “unreasonably” restricting residents who have a designated parking space from installing charging equipment.

Individual residents would be responsible for paying all of the costs associated with the purchase and installation of a charger, which can easily exceed $1,000. But a new state incentive program launched in January could help defray the expense.

Homeowners can receive rebates of up to $500 for a Level 2 charger, as well as up to $500 for any electrical upgrades that might be needed. Various incentives are available for multi-unit rentals, either through the landlord or tenants. Participants can also receive additional credits for charging their vehicles in off-peak hours under demand response programs administered by Eversource and United Illuminating. 

A right-to-charge law will help ensure that “the opportunities available to single-family home dwellers to own electric vehicles and participate in demand response programs are also available to those who live in multi-unit dwellings,” about 11% of Connecticut residents, said state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes in testimony submitted to the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee. 

At least eight states have similar laws in place: New York, New Jersey, California, Hawaii, Virginia, Oregon, Maryland and Florida.

Logistical challenges

But at a recent public hearing on the Connecticut bill, organizations representing condominium associations and landlords opposed the measure, saying it is a “one size fits all” approach to housing developments that vary widely in size, layout, infrastructure and parking availability.

Andrea Dunn, a condominium association lawyer from North Haven, said installing individual chargers “may be impossible” in some communities due to challenges such as a lack of an electrical source close to parking areas, thereby requiring the digging up of land, sidewalks and other common elements.

“Even if the unit owner is paying for it, it affects other members of the community,” she said.

Karl Kuegler, Jr., director of community association management for Imagineers LLC, which manages about 200 common interest communities in Connecticut, said many of the standalone garages with multiple bays commonly found at these complexes “have barely enough electricity to supply the lighting and a couple of utility outlets within the building.”

Condominium lawyers had similar concerns when right-to-charge legislation came before New Jersey lawmakers in 2020, but they were able to amend the language to address those issues, said Matthew Earle, an attorney who chairs the legislative action committee for the state chapter of the Community Association Institute. 

For example, “one big concern was that older complexes may not have the electrical infrastructure sufficient to handle more than a couple of chargers,” he said. 

So the law includes a provision that says if charger installations are going to require infrastructure improvements to provide a sufficient supply of electricity, the association can assess that cost to the charger owners in a pro rata way.

Since its passage, Earle says he has not heard any reports of negative impacts. At the same time, he also hasn’t seen many car charger applications within the communities he works with. Instead, the trend is toward associations installing communal car chargers. 

“They are taking advantage of a state program that will provide up to $30,000 to install one — it’s very popular right now,” Earle said. “It seems like a better way of doing it.”

In such cases, buildings partner with a third-party vendor that provides the software that regulates the station and charges vehicle owners for plugging in, he said.

Connecticut’s charger incentive program offers up to $20,000 for charging equipment installed at a multi-unit development, and up to $40,000 in underserved communities. 

Equity challenges

But communal chargers run by third-party vendors may not be the most equitable solution in buildings that house people of lower means, said Marc Geller, a co-founder of Plug In America, a national nonprofit advocacy group for electric vehicle drivers. 

“The real problem with a third party doing it is that folks in multifamily housing end up paying more for electricity to charge their car than folks in a single-family home,” he said. “Solving this problem for multi-family homes is a major equity concern, and there is not just one solution.” 

Right-to-charge laws “go some way to give folks the possibility of installing charging, but it can be quite expensive to do it,” he said. 

Where possible, he said, he believes the best approach is to connect a parking space to an individual unit’s meter, so that the resident can simply charge on a regular 120-volt circuit. It’s slower than a Level 2 charger, but it allows the resident to charge at utility rates and without a lot of additional expense, he said. 

Gannon Long, director of policy and public affairs at Operation Fuel, which provides energy assistance to low-income households in Connecticut, said she hasn’t heard that the right to charge is of any concern to the financially burdened residents of environmental justice communities.

“People aren’t worried about their right to charge — they’re worried about electricity and heating costs,” she said. “And most electric vehicles are way too expensive for most people to afford.”  

Right-to-charge language is also included in Senate Bill 4, a comprehensive package that includes a host of measures to drive electric vehicle adoption, including expanding the state electric vehicle rebate program, and setting goals to electrify all school buses and state-owned vehicles. A public hearing is scheduled for Friday. 

Lisa Prevost

Lisa is a longtime journalist based in Connecticut. She writes regularly about housing, development and business for the New York Times. Her work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, CNBC.com, Next City and many other publications. She is the author of "Snob Zones: Fear, Prejudice and Real Estate." A native New Englander, Lisa covers Connecticut and Rhode Island.