Easement for off-street car charging?
June 28, 2021 10:10 AM   Subscribe

I own a middle-unit townhome, which is one of three units on the lot. As part of this, I have an assigned, off-street parking spot at the end of the lot. I want to explore installing a car charger in my spot but don't really know where to begin.

A few additional details:
- The lot is a rectangular shape that is basically: [3 Parking spots] [Unit 1] [Unit 2: me] [Unit 3], with a shared pathway that runs along the length of the lot to access the units and the parking spots.

- The parking spots are within the lot's property.

- As far as I know, the parking spots are not wired or set up for eletrical, so if I got permissions, I think I'd need to get trenching to go from my unit power box to the parking spot. I think the two options would be going through a neighbor's yardspace (a narrow patch of dirt, basically) or going through the shared pathway.

- There is no HOA. There is what I believe to be a boilerplate Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions document for the homes.

- I believe my neighbors would be game for getting this done if I paid for it and made it easy.

- We are in Seattle, WA and the homes were built in 2015.

I spoke to an electrician that seemed skeptical about making anything work. He said that I'd need to get an easement and that the install itself would be pretty pricey (~$8k). For what it's worth, that price isn't a deterrent for me.

I realize this may be an impossible task but I want to do my due diligence on it. So my basic question is: What is the order of operations to figure out if it's doable? I assume I need to reach out to a lawyer that specializes in easements? Do I need to talk to the city/county/state? What else should I put into consideration?
posted by carpyful to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Best answer: - The parking spots are within the lot's property.

You should first check if you have one lot with three units (ie, a condo), or three lots with three units. The vast majority of townhomes in Seattle are separate lots, although it's not universal. If it is three lots, it's distinctly possible Unit 1 owns more land (including the parking spots) and you have an easement right to use part of Unit 1's land to access your parking spot.

If it's one lot, without an HOA, you will have a very difficult time getting anything done and should just go to a lawyer right now to establish an HOA. That's a broader problem.

- I believe my neighbors would be game for getting this done if I paid for it and made it easy.

Next, you should figure out how much this is worth to you. If you need an easement, you will have to offer compensation to Unit 1 to use their land. This may be very high (if Unit 1 wants to take advantage of the situation) or very low (if Unit 1 doesn't care). Easements are very difficult to value.

What is the order of operations to figure out if it's doable?
  1. Figure out existing easements. You can generally look up recent (>1980s-ish) easements and surveys online at King County Records. You will probably have some sort of utility easement that allows power/water lines to cross your neighbor's properties and to be maintained. You may have a broader easement that allows you to add other wiring. It's a specific legal question for a lawyer whether you currently have an easement that allows you to add a charger. Even if you have the right to bring power to your parking spot, you would need an easement right to install a charger (either attached to Unit 1 or attached to an anchored post), as the charger would (probably) be on Unit 1's land.
  2. Negotiate with your neighbor in Unit 1 for the easement in principle. Talk to them about what you want to do in specifics - trench a line from your unit to the parking space, add a charger, how long it will take, and what you are willing to pay them to get it done. You will want to provide specifics on how the trench will be repaired. If it's through a pathway, are you going to just repair the trench area (leaving an obvious mark in the pathway), or replace the entire pathway? Many homeowners are terrified of making easements - they probably should be, given it's generally questionable for a homeowner with a mortgage to sell portions of their property. You may have better luck if you preemptively offer some money to Unit 1 with no strings attached for them to consult with a lawyer. $250-$500 will pay for Unit 1 to have a specific legal consultation about the potential easement.
  3. Have a lawyer draft an easement. This will cost more time, and will potentially require the property to be surveyed. This is, however, bog standard, especially if Unit 1 has already agreed to the transaction in principle.
  4. You will pay Unit 1 for the easement, and both you and they will sign the easement.
  5. Your lawyer will bring the easement to King County Recorder Office for recording.
  6. You pay electrician to do the work, and show them the easement to satisfy their (correct) concern.
  7. You now have an electric charger.

posted by saeculorum at 10:46 AM on June 28, 2021 [4 favorites]

Do I need to talk to the city/county/state?

You should only be hiring licensed electricians - if so, they should provide permit service as part of their work. If they are willing to do this work unpermitted, you should be very skeptical. I am not an electrician of any sort, but similar work I have done has required a city electrical permit and inspection.

What else should I put into consideration?

You should record all money you are putting into this, because renovations and improvements to your property increase the cost basis of your townhome. When you sell your house, you can use this increased cost basis to decrease any capital gains you may have incurred on the sale.
posted by saeculorum at 10:52 AM on June 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

I looked at my deed (also in King county) recently, as I own property that has easements for another unit's parking, and my parking is in an easement on my neighbor's property. There is very very specific wording about utilities and parking easements, and who is responsible for what in the deed. I would be able to get one in my spot with no problem, my neighbor would have to get my permission to get one in theirs. The short answer, which sucks, is "it depends."

Also, hello, neighbor!
posted by bensherman at 11:10 AM on June 28, 2021

Best answer: This might be too ambitious, but part of the deal could be doing the trenching once to make it possible for each parking spot to have its own charger when it’s wanted.
posted by clew at 1:20 PM on June 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

What clew said! Even if the neighbors don't want their own chargers right now, having one would be a benefit for resale in the future.
posted by mccxxiii at 4:26 PM on June 28, 2021

Have you asked your car dealer? I'd imagine they run into this quite often and may have some guidance.
posted by kschang at 4:45 PM on June 28, 2021

Also, what level charger do you plan to install, and is it even necessary?
posted by kschang at 4:49 PM on June 28, 2021

The US Dept of Energy has some great, well-refined resources for EV charging, including fact sheet PDFs that explain it to different audiences such as apartment complex operators or condo boards. Take some time to click around and make use of their fine work.

If you do go the route of trenching and conduit, definitely stub in spots for the other parking spots along the way.
posted by intermod at 6:58 PM on June 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

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