Electric Vehicle Chargers Upon Request: What You Need to Know

Electric vehicles have found a strong market in high-income Beverly Hills because state and federal rebates have taken some of the shock out of the sticker price and incentives exist for single-family EV home chargers. What about multifamily? More than half of Beverly Hills households have no access to at-home vehicle charging. To address it Sacramento enacted a law to require landlords to install an EV charger upon request but the law is not helping EV owners. Here’s what you need to know.

City of Beverly Hills was on the electric vehicle (EV) bandwagon relatively early. City Council as early as 2011 contracted with vendors to install 28 charging stations in municipal garages. Today we have 59 high-voltage Level 2 EV chargers at 35 locations across city parking structures and Roxbury Park. EV charging rates have not increased since they were established in 2016: a quarter per kilowatt hour for the juice and two free hours at the station after which $6 for each additional hour is charged (in addition to parking charges).

The city makes charging-on-the-go in parking structures convenient but that is not a viable option for everyday EV users. Home charging is a must but is mostly accessible only to single-family households. One-third of urban California households in live in multifamily housing, though, and for them home-charging is not really an option.

In Beverly Hills an even greater proportion of households live in multifamily housing: 8,566 of them comprising 58% of all households, according to the latest census data, and few have a home-charging option.

Multifamily Retrofit for Charging Stations is a Problem

Multifamily is our greatest opportunity to meet the state’s climate and zero-emission mobility goals. But at an average of $8,000 per parking space on average, according to industry estimates, retrofitting existing housing with charging stations is not cost-effective. Absent significant financial incentives landlords are unlikely to undertake it.

Take Beverly Hills for example. We have older multifamily rental housing stock and many mom-and-pop landlords. Some of these owners are reluctant to undertake even basic maintenance let alone upgrade the property with charging stations. Just imagine the challenge of fitting some of our older apartment houses with 240-volt EV chargers when even a toaster oven can trip the circuit breaker. Laughable!

Because EV chargers are not in the offing, we see some tenants embrace the hillbilly approach: run an extension cord from kitchen to carport. We can’t recommend it because it takes a long time to charge an EV with 120 volts through a consumer extension cord. And besides, the landlord is likely to veto that arrangement…especially if he’s paying for the juice!

The Legislative Fix

Sacramento tried to address the multifamily EV charger problem twice with little success. In 2014 the state enacted Assembly Bill 2565 to require residential landlords to approve a tenant’s request to install an EV charging station.

But AB 2565 was no free ride: the cost of installation, maintenance, and even removal of the EV charging station fell on the tenant. Of course the tenant pays for the power too. Add-in the requirement that the tenant carry a $1,000,000 liability insurance policy to indemnify the landlord and it’s clear that this approach wasn’t workable.

In a bid to make it more appealing the state in 2019 amended it with Senate Bill No. 638 to lower the cap the necessary liability insurance but that wasn’t even the problem. Aside from the cost to install there were too many carve-outs to relieve the landlord of the obligation to install the charger. Exemptions were allowed…

  • If parking is not provided as part of the lease agreement;
  • If parking spaces provided by the landlord number five or fewer;
  • If charging stations already exist for 10% or more of existing parking capacity;
  • If the dwelling is rent-controlled and the lease was “executed, extended, or renewed” before January 1, 2019; and finally,
  • If the dwelling is rent-controlled AND the locality enacted a local ordinance on or before January 1, 2018 to require a landlord to approve a tenant’s request to install an electric vehicle charging station.

The last two paragraphs concerning rent control bear some explanation because Beverly Hills is a rent-control city.

The first of them limits the landlord’s obligation under the law to tenants who entered into (or extended) a lease in 2019 and afterward. Many renting households in Beverly Hills have a month-to-month agreement that predates 2019 and the landlord could refuse them.

The second concerns a provision in state law that allows a local ordinance that requires a charger installation to preempt the state law’s requirement if the local ordinance was adopted by January 1, 2018. Beverly Hills has not adopted any such local ordinance, though, so the other provisions of this law would apply.

Talk to the Landlord

Given the onerous requirements of the state law it may be best to talk to the landlord. That’s what West Hollywood urges in the informative fact sheet it has posted about the problem. (In contrast Beverly Hills provides next to no information that will help a tenant who is looking for a charger.)

West Hollywood charging tips for tenants
West Hollywood provides an explanation of the EV charger installation and even a charging tips fact sheet for tenants.

Surely covering all of the cost of a capital improvement to the property should not be a tenant responsibility. So it may be best to negotiate with the landlord over possibly covering some part of the EV charger cost. The other practical option is to find an apartment with EV charging that is already provided as an amenity.

That is more likely in new residential multifamily construction because EV charging to some degree is required by recent updates to the California Green Building Code. For example builders are required to pre-wire 10% of parking for EV chargers. Check out the West Hollywood detailed guidance for more information.

In Beverly Hills there have been relatively few multifamily units built in prior decades and the vast majority of those are exclusively luxury and mostly condominiums. No doubt they provide EV chargers but that’s not going to help middle-class EV owners.

Of course there’s always that hillbilly option: run an extension cord to the carport. Just make sure it’s commercial grade and hide it well!

California and EVs

State policymakers have put their thumb on the scale for zero-emission vehicles. Assembly Bill 1493 in 2002 required the state to achieve “the maximum feasible reduction of greenhouse gases” from non-commercial passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks. Assembly Bill 32 (California Global Warming Solutions Act) in 2006 set an absolute statewide limit on greenhouse gas emissions that required a rollback to 1990 levels. Senate Bill 350 (Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act) in 2015 was adopted to encourage electrification of all modes of transportation and specifically to “facilitate increased sales of electric vehicles by making charging easily accessible….” Senate Bill 32 in 2016 further reduced the statewide limit on greenhouse gas emissions to levels 40% below the 1990 baseline by 2030. This legislative action in effect ratcheted-down the ceiling on emissions.

At the same time the state sought to encourage sales of zero-emission vehicles. Assembly Bill No. 1236 in 2017 tackled the charging problem: it required every locality to develop an application process for the installation of charging stations and effectively ‘streamlined’ the local approvals process. Senate Bill 1000 in 2018 directed public subsidies to expand charging station infrastructure and prohibited localities from restricting which types of electric vehicles may access a charging station if it was subsidized by electricity ratepayers.

A series of governor’s executive orders nudged us toward a zero-emissions vehicle future. In 2012 Governor Jerry Brown issued executive order B–16–2012 to call for an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). It also required state light-duty fleets to be 25% zero-emission by 2020 and set as a statewide goal by 2025 the rollout of infrastructure sufficient to charge 1.5 million EVs.

In 2018 Governor Jerry Brown issued executive order B–48–18 to call for five million electric cars, buses, and trucks to be traveling California roads by 2030 with 250,000 EV charging stations in place statewide by 2025. He followed up with another executive order B–55–18 to set the goal “carbon neutrality” by 2045.

Finally in 2020 Governor Gavin Newsom issued executive order N-79-20 to require that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California be zero-emission vehicles. That’s a lot of momentum behind EVs but the reality remains that a large proportion of households in multifamily housing won’t have the convenience of charge-at-home.

Brief Primer on EV Charging Stations

Level 1 charging is the standard household option using 120 volts and provides 4–5 miles of range per charging hour. This is a practical option for overnight charging with access to an outlet — something most multifamily residents don’t have. If an outlet is accessible the landlord may not favor it especially if it’s on the ‘house’ circuit.

Level 2 charging requires 240 volts but is much more efficient as it provides about 12 to 20 miles of range per charging hour. Municipal charging stations are Level 2 which is typical of a home charger too. The California Green Building Code mandates some percentage of spaces in new residential construction to provide pre-wiring for this level of charger.

Direct current fast-charging at 800+ volts is much more efficient — providing 3 to 20 miles of range per charging minute — and is characteristic of commercial “supercharging stations.” Few exist today. State and federal regulators are paving the way but it won’t do much good for most multifamily tenants today.EV Chargers illustrated