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You Want to Own an Electric Vehicle, But You Don’t Own a House. Here’s How to Charge it.

You Want to Own an Electric Vehicle, But You Don’t Own a House. Here’s How to Charge it.

Story by Shannon Osaka

If you are one of the 1.4 million Americans who bought an electric car last year, odds are that you live in (and own) a single-family home with a garage. According to one study, homeowners are three times more likely than renters to own an electric vehicle; another analysis of California EV drivers found that 80 percent live in single-family, detached homes.

There’s a reason: Electric cars are most convenient when drivers can charge them overnight — either on a standard outlet or using faster, “Level 2” home charging.

“The pivot is definitely among single-family homeowners,” said Ingrid Malmgren, policy director at the EV advocacy group Plug In America. “If you don’t have access to a home charger, it makes a huge difference.” But there are options for those living in apartment buildings or without a garage. Here’s how you can still go electric if you don’t live in a single-family home.

If you Live in an Apartment or Condo Building

For those living in an apartment or condo building, landlords or homeowners’ associations often stand in the way of public charging. Unfortunately, “there is no one-size-fits-all solution of ‘just follow this formula and you’ll be all set,’” Malmgren said. But experts say that there are a key few step that renters or condo owners can take to access charging. The first is looking up local “right-to-charge” laws — regulations that require homeowners’ associations or landlords to allow residents to install Level 1 or Level 2 charging.

Ten states have “right-to-charge” laws on the books. In California and Colorado, for example, renters or homeowners have the right to install charging at their private parking space or, in some cases, in a public area at their apartment building. Other states, including Florida, Hawaii and New Jersey, have similar but limited laws.

Residents can also reach out to landlords or property owners directly and make the case for installing charging infrastructure. Charging company ChargePoint, for example, offers a template letter to send to landlords and various charging options that can allow property managers to make a profit off the sales of electricity in the building. In some higher-income buildings, some developers and landlords are investing in charging infrastructure as an amenity to attract tenants.

All of this “puts a fair amount of onus on the driver,” said Ben Prochazka, the executive director of the Electrification Coalition. But, he added, many EV advocacy groups are working on changing building codes in cities and states so that all multifamily homes with parking must be “EV-ready.” “EV-ready” spaces have upgraded electrical panels and conduit running to the space — making it up to 10 times cheaper to ultimately install a charger, Malmgren said.

If You Have Street Parking

Another difficult charging situation is drivers who live in single-family homes without a garage or designated parking space. Drivers who park on the street have found novel ways to charge their vehicles, using extension cords running over the sidewalk or even into the branches of a nearby tree.

Drivers in these situations should be careful not to run in afoul of local laws. But some municipalities explicitly allow over-the-sidewalk charging as part of a broader strategy to cut transportation emissions. In D.C., for example, residents are allowed to charge their cars with an extension cord as long as they provide a highly visible ramp over the cord for accessibility concerns. Cambridge, Mass., and Seattle have similar rules in place.

Car companies advise drivers not to use extension cords to charge their vehicles. If you must use an extension cord, experts recommend 10- or 12-gauge, thicker extension cords to minimize safety risks. Charging with an extension cord also means only Level 1, or the slowest form, of charging. But Malmgren points out that for most Americans, who only drive 30 to 40 miles a day, that’s perfectly acceptable.

In some areas, homeowners can also hire an electrician to run power under the sidewalk to a curbside charging port. But homeowners should check local rules and permitting requirements for curbside charging. In some highly EV-friendly cities, local governments will cover the costs. In Seattle, a pilot program is installing faster curbside charging to residents who opt in to the program. “It’s sort of a big mosaic or hodgepodge of solutions out there,” Malmgren said.

If You Have to Rely on Public Charging

If home charging simply isn’t an option, some drivers rely on public charging — either using workplace chargers or charging occasionally on DC fast chargers, which can bring an EV battery from 0 to 80 percent in around 20 minutes. The problem is that public charging is more expensive than charging at home — although in most places, still less expensive than gas. “It’s important to create policies so it’s not cost-prohibitive for people who don’t have a garage,” said Prochazka.

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