E-Bike and E-Scooter Battery Risks for Condominium Associations

Apr 28, 2024 | Articles

In recent years, the rise in popularity of electric bikes and electric scooters (“E-Bikes” and “E-Scooters”) has brought about a new wave of transportation convenience and eco-friendly mobility. In Chicago especially, our high-rise condominium clients are seeing more residents leaving their E-Bikes and E-Scooters in the parking garages and bike rooms and even toting the batteries through the building for charging within their units. While the environmental benefits of  E-Bikes and E-Scooters are good for the city overall and simultaneously reduce the pressures on downtown high-rises to provide new residents with automobile parking, the dangers of the E-Bikes and E-Scooters are a subject worth discussing.

E-Bikes and E-Scooters are generally powered by lithium-ion batteries, which are both energy-dense and efficient. However, these batteries also pose risks, including the potential for causing a fire referred to as a “thermal runaway,” whereby the battery overheats and ignites, leading to a fire that burns very hot, is difficult to extinguish, and (as though it weren’t already bad enough) releases toxic gases into the air while burning. While incidents of E-Bike fires are relatively rare in Chicago, the consequences can be severe, especially in densely populated condominium buildings where a fire can quickly escalate and affect multiple units.

Condominium boards and managers now find themselves at the forefront of addressing these concerns to ensure the safety and well-being of their residents. Let’s delve into the E-Bike/E-Scooter fire concerns within condominium associations and explore strategies for mitigation.

Some of the questions boards are asking are as follows:

  • Should we prohibit E-Bike and E-Scooters on association property?
  • Can we prohibit E-Bikes and E-Scooters via rule alone? Or do we need a declaration amendment?
  • Should we go the opposite way and accommodate the users by setting up an area for battery storage in the common elements to prevent residents from bringing batteries to their units for charging?
  • Can we dictate the type of batteries residents use?
  • Will our insurance company raise our premiums or cancel our policy?

In general, an association’s ability to prohibit E-Bikes and E-Scooters by rule alone will depend on the community. A declaration amendment is far more effective and less subject to legal challenge, but such a blanket prohibition could adversely impact the marketability of the association’s units (after all, Millenials and Gen Z are buying condos, and they seem to really like E-Bikes and E-Scooters). Accommodating them and allowing storage and charging in the common elements allows the board more control, but whether the accommodation is feasible or safe depends on the construction of the building, the fire suppression system, and other factors. Dictating the type of batteries used is difficult to enforce. Regarding insurance, per Nancy Ayers with Alliant, insurance carriers for Illinois condominium associations are just now starting to review the issue of E-Bike batteries (they are currently more engaged with insurance concerns related to electric vehicle charging). Quick note – this article will not discuss electric automobile battery issues, as such fires are less common (due to the fact that after-market batteries are infrequently purchased for cars).

We recommend that boards and managers consider the following methods for dealing with the proliferation of these batteries in the buildings:

  1. Educate – A significant risk is the simple ignorance of E-Bike and E-Scooter owners, as they may not know that using off-brand batteries or cables can greatly increase the risk of fire. The board should consider sending out educational materials to the residents. The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) publishes a great one-page “E-Bike and E-Scooter Safety” handout (available online). The board can send out the materials to ensure that all residents are aware of the current recommendations for safety. Providing information on in-unit battery storage (through the use of fire suppression “battery bags”) and charging can also be useful to new E-Bike and E-Scooter owners. Distribute materials and consider discussing the issue in open Board meetings.
  2. Regulate – The board can regulate the charging and storage in the common elements and, to a certain extent, within the units as well, via carefully crafted rules and regulations or declaration amendments, which may include:
    1. Prohibiting battery charging in the common elements without association approval. If the association does have a bike storage room with some charging capability and wants to allow some residents to charge their batteries, the association must put carefully drafted rules and requirements in place (and perhaps collect a signed release and waiver from the user).
    2. Prohibiting battery disposal in the association’s dumpsters. Advise residents that batteries must be disposed off association’s property (a good resource for safely disposing of E-bike batteries is the National eBike Battery Recycling Program).
    3. Requiring that only UL Safety Certified batteries are permitted on the association property. While the board and management should not become quality control police, if batteries are visible in the common elements, engineering and janitorial teams can be instructed to check to see if the battery is marked with a “UL-2849” and inform management if that designation is missing.
  3. Stay Informed – Boards and management can look to their outside professionals to keep informed of strategies for addressing the issue. Attorneys, insurance professionals, and even quick online searches can ensure that the board stays “in the know.”
  4. Inspections – Most fire departments are willing to perform inspections of properties. Managers can consider calling their local fire station and asking if the fire department is willing to perform an inspection to provide some tips and guidance. This would be particularly important for those communities considering accommodating the storage and charging in a common element area. A review of the proposed charging area by the fire department is recommended.
  5. Upgrade – When economically feasible, a potential upgrade of the association’s fire suppression system is also recommended. Even buildings with a “wet pipe” sprinkler system may not have the pressure capable of extinguishing a thermal runaway fire from a battery. Upgrading fire suppression is the ideal solution.

As e-bikes continue to gain popularity as a sustainable mode of transportation, addressing fire concerns within condominium associations becomes paramount. By implementing a combination of educational, regulatory, and infrastructure improvements, condominium associations can mitigate the risks associated with E-Bikes/E-Scooters and ensure the safety and well-being of their residents. Through proactive measures and community engagement, condominium living can remain a safe and enjoyable experience for all.

For any further questions, feel free to contact Bartzen Rosenlund Kasten at 312.450.6655 or at info@brkchicago.com. Please see the linked article here for further information.


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