Doctor sells electric car after EV charging blocked

Old-petrol-station.jpg

This is not Dr Gupta's car - just a funny juxtaposition of the old and the new.

Confusion about strata by-laws has resulted in a busy doctor having to sell his electric vehicle (EV) and go back to a gas-guzzling, polluting car when his strata committee refused to let him charge up at his parking space … even when he offered to pay for the electricity.

As a doctor regularly treating patients suffering the ill effects of floods, heat and bushfires, Dr Akhil Gupta is always eager not to contribute to climate change himself, reports Sue Williams in the SMH.

But he’s devastated after being forced to dump his electric vehicle in favour of an old petrol car because the apartment block where he lives refused to allow him to use a power point in the garage to charge it, despite his offer to pay for the electricity.

“It meant I was having to drive around Sydney to find a charger somewhere else and then sit in it for up to an hour, as my EV was a few years old, to fully recharge the battery,” said Dr Gupta, 34, who lives in an apartment in Darlinghurst.

“It added such a huge amount of time onto my commute to the hospitals I work in, and my 10-hour working day, and it seemed ridiculous when there was a perfectly good working power point in our garage where I could charge up the car overnight. But when the strata sealed it up to stop anyone having access to it, I had no choice.”

Dr Gupta, an endocrinologist and obstetric physician, had offered to pay a weekly fee to the Owners Corporation for the electricity – about $10 a week – or to pay for his exact use if a meter was installed.

The building manager contacted him, however, and said the strata committee insisted that he, a tenant, had to persuade the owner of his unit to pay for independent legal advice to draw up a bylaw and then put it to a meeting of all owners to see if it would be passed.

Where they got it wrong

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“We’d have had to hire a solicitor at our own cost to propose something that would benefit the whole building,” said Dr Gupta, who eventually felt compelled to get rid of his 2018 Hyundai IONIQ and bought an old Mercedes Benz instead.

“It would involve so much money and time and work, but we’d have to bear that despite the likelihood that there’d be many more EVs there in the future. It seemed such backward thinking.” 

Luke Bowen, managing director of Sky Living Strata, which looks after the 15-storey, 120-unit Parkridge Apartments on Oxford Street, said he would not go into detail about the case.

“But we can’t allow one individual to use the power as the whole building would be paying for it,” said Mr Bowen. “And an owners corporation can’t invoice one individual to pay. He’s been told that a bylaw would have to be drafted to allow access to common power and proposed at a general meeting.”

At a time when a huge number of apartment buildings around Australia are now having EV-charging systems installed in their premises, knowing that the ownership of EVs is taking off, Electric Vehicle Council CEO Behyad Jafari said this position was extremely short-sighted.

“The problem is that, for existing apartment buildings, there’s currently no consistent set of rules about how to approach this issue,” he said. “Strata committees often look at it and think it’s too hard, so they end up not bothering trying, and doing nothing at all.

“Yet there are now a lot of companies that can provide solutions for buildings in this position. Otherwise, it’s hard to expect the first person to get an EV to bear all the costs and pay for everything, so the second owner and the third and fourth pay nothing.”

Latest figures show that the number of NSW-registered EVs, hybrid petrol-electric cars and those using alternative fuels, like hydrogen, more than doubled from 37,238 to 78,644 in the two years to September 2021. In Victoria, EV registrations have more than tripled in the last four years.

Nationally, annual sales have grown to around 20,000, with recent soaring petrol prices adding to the push to electric. “Everyone should have the right to have this option, and apartment buildings shouldn’t be able to hold people back from buying EVs” said Mr Jafari.

As for Dr Gupta, he still feels a huge sadness at having to go back to the technology of the past. “My role is to help people, not harm them with carbon emissions,” he said. “This short-sightedness has compromised my ability to do the best I can for the community.”

A NSW Fair Trading spokesperson didn’t make any comment on the rights of tenants – who make up 50 per cent of apartment residents – but said an owner could approach an owners corporation to make a by-law governing their use, or propose to install an EV charging station using the sustainability infrastructure process.

“If the owner cannot resolve the issue with the owners corporation they can apply to NSW Fair Trading for mediation,” she said.

This story first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Where the strata scheme got it wrong

Let’s look at the three contentious pieces of information behind the refusal of Dr Gupta request to be able to charge his car (writes Jimmy Thomson).

  1. That it would require the owners of his apartment to pay for a by-law to be written by a lawyer.
  2. That by-law would need to be approved by a general meeting of the owners corporation.
  3. That there was no way any resident could be invoiced separately for the provision of a service.

Okay, firstly, does it need a by-law? Under section 132B of the Strata Schemes Management Act, Financing and installation of sustainability infrastructure, changes to common property that advance the sustainability of the building only require the approval of a simple majority of owners at a general meeting , even though the approval would be a considered a special resolution.

This section of the Act specifically mentions moves to “facilitate the use of sustainable forms of transport” and gives as an example “installing electric vehicle charging stations.”

Now, section 132B says the owners corporation must consider the cost of the sustainability infrastructure and works including any expected running and maintenance costs, as well as who will own, install and maintain the sustainability infrastructure.

However, there is no mention of a by-law being required, just a special Sustainability Infrastructure Resolution which, in these sustainability cases, only requires a simple majority vote.

Sect 132B goes on to say:

“Sustainability infrastructure resolution means a resolution to do any one or more of the following that is specified to be a sustainability infrastructure resolution—
(a) to finance sustainability infrastructure,
(b) to add to the common property, alter the common property or erect a new structure on common property for the purpose of installing sustainability infrastructure,
(c) to change the by-laws of the strata scheme for the purposes of the installation or use (or both) of sustainability infrastructure.

Also, elsewhere in the Act, installing electrical wiring and power points are considered minor renovations which only require the committee’s approval.

But key to all this is the simple fact that Dr Gupta didn’t need a special fast-charging outlet to be installed, he only needed permission to plug his charger in to a mains socket and “trickle” charge the vehicle overnight at off-peak energy prices.

All of which is to say that the strata committee and the strata manager could and probably should have made it easier for the tenant and his landlord.

Finally, there is the question of whether the tenant could be invoiced separately for the electricity. All over NSW and beyond, residents are invoiced individually for everything from storage space rental to hot water usage. It’s really not that hard to do.

Is it strictly legal? Does it appear in the Act? Does any of that matter? This is an issue that could have been resolved simply and easily without the StrataKops coming round (because there are no Stratakops).

Which brings us to Fair Trading and their refusal to comment. How much easier life would be if Fair Trading actually offered advice on the tricky stuff, rather than pointing us to the published information that we can discover for ourselves, only to find that it doesn’t answer our questions.

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  • #63152
    et
    Flatchatter

    “go back to a gas-guzzling, polluting car whe”

    That seems like an hyperbolic way to describe a type of vehicle that, the majority of people own and use. Doctor didn’t buy a hummer did he?

    #63154
    Jimmy-T
    Keymaster
    Chat-starter

    It’s called hyperbole – exaggeration for effect.  Like using Hummer as an example, for instance.

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