The Owners Corporation Network (OCN), an independent body representing apartment owners, has drafted a model by-law on the management of e-bikes and e-scooters after a series of fires sparked by lithium-ion batteries.
If adopted by strata schemes, the by-law would also ban residents from storing cheaper imported models, modified, or damaged e-bikes on the property.
OCN board chair Fred Tuckwell said they supported the uptake of e-bikes and e-scooters as a clean mode of transport but wanted to ensure they were stored and charged safely.
“We’re not saying ban the things. We’re just saying mitigate the risk and just be cautious and sensible,” Mr Tuckwell said.
“Don’t buy cheap junk, don’t hot them up, and don’t put them in the fire egress path.”
Ideally, apartment buildings would install fire-safe charging stations in common areas, but Mr Tuckwell acknowledged few complexes had that infrastructure.
He said residents should use an outdoor area such as a balcony to charge the batteries but, crucially, avoid fire exits.
Fire risk worse than EVs
The OCN considered whether a ban was necessary but found well-designed e-bikes that met Australian certification were safe and the risk was largely confined to modified, damaged, or cheaper unsafe variants.
The ACCC released a report in October on the safety of lithium-ion batteries, which were also used in electric vehicles and increasingly in other personal devices such as laptops and phones.
It found batteries in e-bikes and e-scooters were significantly more likely to cause fires than electric cars and trucks due to low-quality products, and failures of these batteries could be “particularly catastrophic” due to the volatile liquid in the batteries.
Fire and Rescue NSW reported 149 battery-related incidents between January 1 and September 15, 2023 — a 16 per cent increase on the same time last year.
Of these incidents, 22 per cent involved e-mobility devices — a 94 per cent increase on the same period the previous year.
Last week, a fire broke out at an e-bike repair centre in Croydon, in Sydney’s inner west, with footage showing e-bikes engulfed in flames.
In December, an e-bike battery caught fire in Annandale, in Sydney’s inner west, after it was left charging by a food delivery driver.
A faulty e-bike battery was also the cause of a fire at a Kings Cross backpackers’ hostel in October.
Inside charging ban not realistic
Bicycle NSW CEO Peter McLean said it was unrealistic to stop people from charging batteries in their own dwellings.
“There’s no point bringing in rules that can’t actually be enforced and probably only encourage people to do the wrong thing behind people’s backs,” Mr McLean said.
Mr McLean, who has two e-bikes, understood apartment owners’ concerns about fires, but said the risks could be managed.
“In our experience, they’re certainly very, very safe pieces of micro-mobility equipment,” he said.
He said many fires were caused when a battery was plugged into a fast charger that was not designed for it, which led to dangerous overcharging.
Mr McLean called on the Australian government to crack down on the importation of chargers and e-bikes that did not meet Australian or European standards — something the OCN supported.
Strata law expert Cathy Sherry said some residents would be surprised that strata schemes have the power to set rules governing activity inside their homes.
“Most of the time that’s probably going to be inappropriate, but some of the time it’s not,” Professor Sherry, who is based at Macquarie Law School and Smart Green Cities research institute, said.
“So if somebody does something that causes a fire risk to the building, it’s not just their home that’s going to be affected, it’s everybody’s homes. So it is entirely legitimate for the owner’s corporation to be regulating something if it presents a real risk to other people in the building.”
While the OCN proposed a ban on inside charging, Mr Tuckwell said individual strata schemes might leave out that provision if it did not suit their building.
He suggested property management create an e-bike and e-scooter register to help enforce the rules.