NYC Council passes bills beefing up penalties for illegal e-bike battery sales


The City Council passed legislation on Wednesday that beefs up penalties for sales of uncertified e-bike batteries, including by authorizing the padlocking of stores caught repeatedly hawking the illegal devices.

The passage of the bill, which now heads to Mayor Adams’ desk for his signature, comes as fires sparked by the lithium-ion-powered batteries remain a major issue in the city.

E-bike batteries caused 267 blazes across the five boroughs last year, resulting in 18 deaths and 150 injuries, according to FDNY data. Just last week, journalist Fazil Khan died in a residential building fire in Harlem caused by an e-bike battery explosion, the city’s first lithium-ion-related fatality this year.

Last year, the Council passed legislation requiring that e-bike batteries be certified by an accredited testing laboratory, with fines in store for retailers who sell them without proper licenses. The measure adopted by the Council in a 45-0 vote Wednesday afternoon builds on last year’s legislation by making penalties for violations steeper.

E-BIKE FIRE

Lithium-Ion batteries are seen smoking outside an e-bike repair and sales store on Madison St. in Manhattan on June 20.

Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News

Lithium-ion batteries are seen smoldering outside an e-bike repair and sales store on Madison St. in Manhattan on June 20, 2023. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News)

Retailers who are caught once selling illegal e-bike batteries will still get off with a warning under the newly-adopted bill. However, if they’re caught a second time, they’d be slapped with a $2,000 fine, up from the previous $1,000, according to the bill, which was authored by Councilwoman Gale Brewer, a Manhattan Democrat.

The bill also makes it a separate, new violation for retailers that fail to keep records detailing the security accreditation of any e-bike batteries they’re selling, punishable by up to $500 per infraction.

Retailers caught violating any e-bike sales restrictions three times in a three-year period can risk getting their stores shuttered and padlocked by the city, Brewer’s bill says.

“The point is that these stores cannot be selling these uncertified batteries that then get plugged in and cause a fire,” Brewer said in a press conference at City Hall before the vote. “So this is hopefully one more opportunity to try to close some of these stores.”

Gale Brewer speaking during a press conference before a New York City Council meeting at City Hall in Manhattan, New York on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023. (Shawn Inglima for New York Daily News)
Gale Brewer speaks during a press conference before a New York City Council meeting at City Hall in Manhattan, New York on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023. (Shawn Inglima for New York Daily News)

Adams spokeswoman Amaris Cockfield signaled late Wednesday that the mayor is likely to let the bill become law, saying the “common-sense” measure “will help prevent unnecessary fatalities in our city.”

Enforcement of e-bike restrictions could previously only be conducted by the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. The Brewer measure empowers the FDNY to also carry out that enforcement function.

A separate bill, also penned by Brewer and passed by the Council on Wednesday, would require all businesses that sell e-bikes to post informational guides in their stores alerting buyers to the potential dangers of lithium-ion batteries. Stores that operate web retail platforms would be required to post the informational guides online, too. Failure to do so could result in business owners facing penalties upward of $350 per violation.

Sept. 26, 2021: Death Charge

New York Daily News front page for Sept. 26, 2021: Dangerous scooter batteries blamed in dozens of fires. Apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn was left a charred wreck after a scooter's battery started a recent fire.

New York Daily News

New York Daily News front page for Sept. 26, 2021: Dangerous scooter batteries blamed in dozens of fires. Apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn was left a charred wreck after a scooter’s battery started a recent fire.

Brewer acknowledged there is still the issue of online sales of uncertified e-bike batteries. In order to truly tackle that issue, Brewer said Congress needs to step in to regulate how lithium-ion devices can be sold online across the entire country.

“There is a bipartisan interest in stating that no uncertified batteries will be sold in the United States of America because as much effort as we put into this we still have the online issue,” she said. “Hopefully that will be addressed at some point, but in the interim we have to do what we can locally.”

Rep. Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat, and New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand introduced legislation in their respective chambers of Congress last year that would create new federal regulations around e-bike battery sales. Those bills have not made any progress in either the House or the Senate to date.



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