When the lithium-ion battery used to power an e-bike exploded in Ala Parades’ living room last summer, the noise was so loud he says he thought the city was under attack.
“It was a matter of, I don’t know, two minutes before the house lit up, the whole house lit up. Then, we couldn’t get absolutely no documents or money out, nothing, absolutely nothing,” Parades said, through a translator.
He says he lost everything — including $10,000 in cash. Parades was living in the Astoria apartment with his wife who was nine months pregnant, as well as an aunt, uncle and cousin. He says the battery was purchased by his uncle just a few days before the fire, and was not plugged in or charging at the time of the explosion.
“It’s a good thing that the battery was inside the apartment, because if the battery had exploded in the stairs, there would not have been a way to get out,” he said.
Beyond being put up in a hotel by the Red Cross and a GoFundMe that raised nearly a thousand dollars, Parades says he received no relief.
“An insurance adjuster came and told us that in two weeks they were going to return my deposit and that they were going to relocate us. And to this day they have not given us any answer,” he said.
While Parades was aware he had a lithium-ion battery in his shared apartment, what happens if you don’t know what your neighbor has?
NY1 reached out to the 20 largest property management companies in the city. Only one company — which declined to be identified — said they are in the preliminary stages of banning e-bikes.
Another company, Orsid, which represents 183 buildings, says each building is assessing the risk for their own respective building. The company has also circulated e-bike and scooter safety tips, as required by the FDNY late last year.
Steven Sladkus, an attorney representing over 300 condominium and cooperative boards, says his clients are concerned, but changing the governing documents of a condo or co-op building can be time consuming.
“It’s a process. So the stop gap there has been to amend what’s called the house rules in a co-op, or amend the rules and regulations in a condominium, which can be done by boards, typically. So it can be a one, two, three enactment of a ban without having to go to anyone to do it,” Sladkus, a founding partner at Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas, said.
He says one hurdle is electric wheelchairs, which are often powered by lithium-ion batteries — so reasonable accommodations will need to be made in some cases. He says some buildings are looking for extreme measures to stay safe.
“Instead of banning e-bikes to actually look into the feasibility of building a bike safe house, if you will, that would be fireproof in case, God forbid, one of these batteries decided to ignite. That does require a great expense,” Sladkus said.
The city’s housing authority considered banning the devices from its 170,000 apartments last year. But a spokesperson tells NY1 “at this time, there is no new rule in place and therefore no date for implementation.”
The city’s department of Housing Preservation and Development oversees the housing maintenance code and says there are no codes regarding e-bikes or lithium-ion batteries.
As for Parades, he’s living in a new apartment now. He also has a new job as a deliverista. But his vehicle is powered by gasoline, which is more expensive than an e-bike.
“I have even forbidden them to put batteries in this house again,” Parades said.
It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.