Electric vehicle dilemma faced by millions of Aussie residents: 'It's a nightmare'

Apartment dwellers must seek approval to install EV charging infrastructure in their building, a rule Robert Till has been fighting for years.

Left: Robert Till smiling on beach in France. Right: Aurora Tower on Queen Street, Brisbane.
Robert Till said the owner's committee at his Brisbane apartment refuses to grant him permission to install a powerpoint in his car space to charge an electric vehicle. Source: Supplied. Google

Aussie man Robert Till has been desperate to ditch his 2011 Holden Calais for an EV for the past three years, but he faces a common dilemma felt by millions of apartment dwellers across the country.

With no charging infrastructure currently available at his block in Brisbane, he would have nowhere to charge his vehicle. And the "simple" solution he's proposed requires body corporate approval, but he's been told no.

The number of people living in strata-managed apartment buildings is around 2.5 million nationally and growing. Like all apartment dwellers, the 70-year-old retiree must seek committee approval before making changes to his car space which is considered common property as per state strata legislation — and it's the same in other states and territories across Australia.

All he wants is a standard 10 amp—240 volt power point installed in his car space, like one you'd find inside a home, the retiree told Yahoo News Australia. This is type 1 charging. He's even offered to cover the costs, but even then he's been refused.

"I don't agree that the body corporate should be paying for any of it. I just want them to get out of the way and let the people who want it pay for it," he said. "To just put a charger in on my own volition, it was going to cost about $5,000, and that's including a meter".

"The issue I have is that under Queensland legislation, a Body Corporate can't stop somebody putting any pet in their building in their apartment, and that includes anything as big as a horse," he added. "But the body corporate under Queensland legislation can stop you putting even a 240 volt power supply to your car space".

 A Tesla Model Y charges at an EV charging station in Lane Cove Sydney, Australia.
Current strata legislation does not allow owners to install EV charging infrastructure in their car space without permission. Source: Getty

Fred Tuckwell, chair at the Owner's Corporation Network, which looks after strata owners, agrees it's a major problem, not just in Queensland but across the country. He told Yahoo he's been pushing for apartment buildings to be "more EV ready," but said the biggest issue with strata committees is there's still a significant proportion of people "who don't support sustainability".

NSW is leading the way in supporting the shift to an EV future, and thanks to amendments made to the state's Sustainability Infrastructure Act in 2021, now only 50 per cent of owners need to vote in favour of infrastructure change within a building — previously it was 75 per cent. This, he said, makes it easier for people to convert to EV.

The NSW government has also made it mandatory for all new apartment blocks to be built with infrastructure to allow electric car charging from October 2023. It's expected other states and territories will follow. However, for older blocks, there remains a challenge.

Buildings like Till's in Brisbane — built in 2003 — often lack the electrical capacity to accommodate communal chargers, there's also the issue of how it will be paid for. When the 70-year-old first sought body corporate approval, he was told the building wouldn’t take the infrastructure. However he disagrees based on advice he's sought from an independent electrician and EV charger installer.

Till said he doesn't support type 2 superchargers in apartment blocks, like those seen by Tesla, which "would not be practical". Type 2 charging would require upgrades to the building's electrical infrastructure, Tuckwell confirmed.

However, "it's easy" to install type 1 charging, Till said. "Anything from 7 to 11 kilowatt hour charges can be done with a 240 volt line. There's plenty of infrastructure for that," he said, adding there's only a handful of EV owners in his building to begin with.

"If everybody turns their kettle on all at once, that’ll be equivalent to everybody trying to charge their car, and low kilowatt-hours".

Tesla supercharger in use at Heatherbrae, Australia.
Till does not support using Tesla superchargers (pictured) in apartment buildings which require more power and electrical work. Source: Getty

The 70-year-old thinks state and federal government have a responsibility to step in and change legislation so that strata committees don't have all of the power. He noted the huge push for an EV future but said it's currently "a real nightmare".

He wants state legislation changed to take the EV charger decision making away from body corporates.

"If they want everybody to go to an EV, then they've got to take that approval process out of the body corporate, back to state legislation," he said.

Tuckwell said the Owner's Corporation Network has written to both federal and state governments supporting a change of legislation on a "right to charge" basis. "Victorian government, I think, is looking seriously at it, and it is certainly on the NSW government's agenda, whether they're going to do anything and when, I don't know," he said.

EV charging bays at sites across Australia.
The EV network is rapidly expanding across Australia with the federal government committed to increasing the update of electric vehicles. Source: Getty

In October, the NSW government announced a $10 million budget to retrofit 100 apartment buildings with EV charging stations throughout the state to help "make EV ownership attractive for more people". The grant is part of the NSW Government’s commitment to rolling out charging sufficient infrastructure by 2030.

The grants are for buildings with 10 or more apartments and will co-fund up to 80 per cent, to a maximum of $80,000, of the necessary upgrades.

"More than 90 per cent of EV drivers charge their vehicle at home, and we don’t want people living in apartments to miss out," said Minister for Energy Penny Sharpe at the time.

Tuckwell said this is a welcomed change and hopes it will be rolled out across Australia. "We want governments to know there are simple solutions on the table," he said.

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