Many tenants will own e-bikes (and sometimes e-scooters), indeed, they are often used by delivery riders, for example, working for online retailers such as Amazon.
However, there is a problem. E-bikes and e-Scooters are powered by batteries, mostly lithium-ion batteries. And in some circumstances, these can explode, causing severe fires. Indeed fire brigades tell us that these fires are increasing.
The Guardian reported in May 2023 that there had been 102 fires associated with e-bikes and scooters so far in 2023, with a forecast of 338 for the whole year. At least 190 had been injured and eight people killed.
Now we should be clear here that most batteries are safe. If you buy your e-bike from a reputable company and look after it properly, you should be fine.
The problems tend to be when cheap batteries or chargers are purchased, for example, off the internet or when batteries are not looked after properly and used when damaged.
However, if a fire does start, it can be very dangerous. A phenomenon called ‘thermal runaway’ can occur – this is an uncontrollable, self-heating state where chemical reactions are exponentially accelerated and internal temperature go up and up.
If this happens the resulting fire can be ferocious and difficult to put out. The advice given is not to try, but to save yourself by getting out of the building immediately and calling the fire brigade.
Below is a video released by the London Fire Brigade which shows the moment when a battery bursts into flames leading to a huge explosion:
Legal e-bikes, illegal e-scooters
Although e-bikes are legal, e-scooters are currently prohibited unless they are rented from approved companies in one of the designated government trial areas (as explained here). They are subject to a speed limit of 15 mph (less in some areas), and riders must have a driving license – a provisional license will do so long as it has a category Q entitlement.
However, despite this, e-scooters are easy to buy if you want one and no doubt many tenants will have purchased illegal scooters and will be keeping them at the property.
So when do batteries cause fires?
It looks as if fires tend to happen if
- Counterfeit batteries have been purchased – for example, cheap batteries purchased off the internet. These often lack essential safety features.
- Batteries have been damaged – for example, if they have been dropped or punctured in some way.
- The wrong charger is used for the particular battery.
- Batteries have been subject to extreme temperatures – most have a safe operating temperature of between -20°C to 60°C (4°F to 140°F).
- Overcharging – leaving batteries plugged in for long periods of time can increase the risk of fire.
What should landlords do?
You can’t really stop tenants from keeping e-bikes or scooters. Indeed e-bikes are to be encouraged as they are healthy and help the environment.
If possible, though, try to provide somewhere they can be stored outside the property, for example, in a locked shed or garage. Ideally, these should have electricity so batteries can be charged here rather than in the house or flat itself. Then if a fire does occur, hopefully, it will be limited to the shed or garage and will not spread to the property itself.
It would also be a good idea to fit a smoke alarm!
House rules for e-bike and s-scooter owners
I would also recommend having some house rules for tenants keeping e-bikes or scooters, which tenants should sign at the same time as they sign their tenancy agreement.
Make it clear that these are for their safety and explain why – presumably, your tenants will want to avoid fires, too, once they are made aware of the dangers!
For example, these could stipulate that:
- You be notified if they are keeping an e-bike or e-scooter at the property for insurance purposes
- All batteries and chargers must meet official safety standards
- All chargers used should be the official correct charger for the battery concerned
- Batteries should be allowed to cool before charging
- Manufacturer’s instructions should be followed at all times – in particular, note maximum charge levels and temperature thresholds.
- Batteries should not be tampered with or modified.
- Batteries should be checked carefully before charging to make sure that they have not been damaged (e.g. by being dropped) and that there are no cracks, dents, or leaks in the battery casing.
- They should also be kept clean as dust and dirt build up on the battery contacts can cause them to overheat.
- Batteries should not be left to charge unattended and should be unplugged as soon as they have finished charging.
- Batteries should be disconnected when not in use and kept in a battery case or fireproof bag.
Other items to include are not to block fire escapes and not to tamper with smoke alarms – but these should already be in your tenancy agreement.
Property inspections are essential for many reasons – one of which being that they are required by many insurers! Doing a property inspection will allow you to check if your tenants own an e-Bike or scooter.
If so, have a chat with them about safety and draw their attention to the problems of fires. If they are charging batteries indoors, for example, in the kitchen, it is particularly important that you check the smoke detectors there!
I would also recommend that you write to them after your inspection, just saying that you notice that they now have an e-bike, and drawing their attention again to the dangers and safety precautions that they should take.
If you feel unhappy or uncomfortable doing property inspections (and many landlords do), then our Property Inspection Kit can help.
Finally, check your insurance to make sure that you are covered for damage from battery fires. Most landlord insurance should provide for this but it is better to be safe than sorry!
So far as damage to the e-bikes and e-scooters themselves is concerned, this will be down to the tenant’s insurers (a landlord cannot insure his tenant’s possessions), although insurance for hired e-scooters will be provided by the hire company. So make sure that your tenants are aware of this. See our free Insurance Mini-course for help on insurance.