New York City’s Newly Adopted E-Bike Legislation a Step in the Right Direction but Offers Little Guidance for Condominiums and Cooperatives

  |   By Kelly A. Ringston

The New York City Council passed a five-piece package of legislation on March 2, 2023, aimed at combating the increasing number of fires caused by lithium-ion battery powered e-bikes and e-scooters. The legislation is a step in the right direction but lacks any guidance to assist boards in mitigating the immediate risk these devices present to condominium and cooperative buildings.

Lithium-ion batteries are ubiquitous and are found in everything from iPhones to toys to power tools.  However, the dramatic rise in popularity of e-bikes and e-scooters in New York City has triggered a public safety crisis. Damaged, improperly charged or improperly stored lithium-ion batteries can overheat and explode, with catastrophic consequences.  The batteries have been linked to several hundred fires across New York City in recent years and are responsible for several deaths.  Just this week, an e-scooter exploded in the Bronx, causing a five-alarm fire which required the response of more than two hundred firefighters.  FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh recently described lithium-ion battery fires as fires that “start quickly, grow rapidly, offer little time to escape, consume everything in their path, and are very difficult to extinguish.”

The Council’s new legislation is focused on education, information-gathering, and regulation.  The bills can be summarized as follows:

  • Bills 656-A and 749-A direct the creation and implementation of an informational campaign to educate the public, and food delivery workers, on the fire risks posed by powered mobility devices;
  • Bill 722-A requires the FDNY to regularly report on safety measures to mitigate fire risk associated with powered mobility devices;
  • Bill 752-A makes it unlawful to assemble or recondition a lithium-ion battery using cells removed from used storage batteries, or sell or offer for sale a lithium-ion battery that uses cells removed from used storage batteries; and
  • Bill 663-A prohibits the distribution, sale, lease, rental or offer for sale, lease, or rental any powered bicycle, powered scooter, or appurtenant storage battery absent certification by an accredited testing laboratory that the bicycle, scooter, or battery complies with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) standards, or such other safety standard as may be established by rule in consultation with the fire department.

This legislation could certainly help reduce the fire risk associated with e-bikes and e-scooters in the long term and increase the safety of future inventory.  It does not, however, eliminate the danger created by condominium and cooperative residents who currently store and charge their (likely non-compliant) e-bikes and e-scooters in their building.  As such, boards and managing agents should continue to educate residents about the dangers associated with lithium-ion batteries and consult with their counsel concerning the implementation of rules and regulations on the storage of e-bikes and e-scooters in their buildings.