Last year, Lithium-ion batteries in e-bikes were found to be the source of multiple fires, injuries, and deaths throughout New York City. But these batteries are not new, and they can be found in commonly used and necessary items such as cell phones, laptops, tools, and other household devices. It is the use, or rather misuse, of this valuable power source that has the entire city wondering what can be done to mitigate the dangers that come along with them.
This safety concern is even more complicated in condominiums and coops in New York City where multiple families and individuals share limited space. Boards are being asked to balance the safety of residents against the convenience and needs of residents, who rely on e-bikes and other transportation devices powered by Lithium-ion batteries. Some boards have already banned lithium-ion battery powered vehicles outright from anywhere on their property. Some restrict where in the building or on the property these bikes can be stored. While others, well-aware of how some residents use e-bikes and scooters for essential transportation and even income purposes, weigh various options, including waiting for guidance from authorities and/or protective legislation to be passed by local government.
One recent publication from the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY), called the “Dangers of Lithium-Ion Batteries” gives practical advice on the safest way to “Always” and “Never” behave when it comes to these batteries:
- Purchase certified devices by nationally known testing laboratories
- Follow instructions from manufacturer for properly storing and charging batteries
- Use the proper adapter, cord, and battery for the device
- Charge directly into a wall electrical outlet
- Store devices, including battery, at room temperature, away from flammable substances
- Recycle batteries at an approved battery recycling center
- Use aftermarket batteries or chargers
- Plug into a power strip
- Overcharge a battery or allow battery to charge overnight
- Leave a charging battery for e-scooters or e-bikes unattended
- Store a battery under a pillow, blanket or couch while charging
- Block entrances to a room with a charging battery
- Place batteries directly in the trash or recycling – used approved battery recycling only
As the FDNY’s concern grows in response to the over 180 investigations into fires related to lithium-ion batteries in 2022, the FDNY will require landlords to post e-bike safety signage visible to all tenants and residents by April 30, 2023. These signs will warn tenants and residents about the potential dangers related to charging electric bikes and scooters indoors.
This past November, the City Council met to discuss several bills which would introduce legislation on the sale, use and storage of lithium-ion batteries. However, the popular use of e-bikes and scooters for those who use this vehicle for deliveries, which make it essential to their livelihoods, makes the matter even more complicated and new laws do not seem to be coming quickly.
With so much to consider, the best course of action for all condominiums and coops is to stay on top of developments and to keep their boards, residents and visitors well informed of procedure and policies that will safeguard everyone in the building. If boards ban storage of the bikes on the property, they should be vigilant in making sure they are removed if found. All buildings that are considering adopting e-bike policies should discuss the legal and practical problems with their counsel.