“E-bikes in Your Community Association: Ten Potential Rules and Regulations” – KSN attorney Michael Kreibich rules and regulations for e-bikes in condominium, homeowner (HOA), and townhome community associations. Topics include e-bike types, speed limits, safety restrictions, storage, proper charging, and more. (18 mins.)
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Bernie: You’re listening to the KSN podcast, and today we’re talking about e-bikes in community associations. Welcome to the KSN podcast, where you’ll hear from KSN attorneys as they share their experience and insight on legal issues surrounding community associations, collections, property tax appeals, and landlord tenant law. I’m Bernie, and today we’re joined by KSN attorney Michael Kreibich. Mike practices condominium, townhome and Homeowner Association law. Mike, welcome to the KSN podcast.
Michael: Hi, Bernie. Great to be here.
Bernie: All right, Mike. Our topic today, e-bikes in community associations and we’re going to talk about 10 potential rules and regulations that board members and property managers should be aware of. And by way of context, for anyone that’s not aware what an e-bike is, an e-bike is an electronic bicycle. It’s equipped with electrical motors that assist the rider in pedaling and propelling the bike forward. And the bikes typically have rechargeable batteries and a lot of people use them for commuting, for exercise, for leisure riding. The market for e-bikes in the US has grown significantly, especially in the last few years and while you may see them as tourist options where folks can rent them when they go into a new city. So it’s a common rental option, but the number of e-bikes in communities and neighborhoods continues to grow as e-bikes become more popular and more widely available. So Mike, how does that impact, how do e-bikes affect community associations?
Michael: Before we get into the whole e-bike discussion, I want to talk about it a little bit more because this is kind of an offshoot of what’s happening in the country, actually in the world overall. The trend as people are probably aware, unless they live under a rock, is that we are going in the direction of electronic everything, right? So there’s electronic vehicles. I actually own one. So I deal with that on my own personal situation at home. But e-bikes kind of fall in line with the electronic vehicles and how associations address the use and how they impact the community is definitely something the associations have the right to govern. That would be done by way of rules. Obviously, the rules need to comply with what the governing documents say. They need to comply with any local ordinances, they need to comply with any statutes.
So, we’ll dig into that a little bit deeper. But e-bikes are really just one more thing that we are dealing with as time goes on. So, boards need to just be aware of what it is and then we’re going to talk specifically about e-bikes today, but it’s really part of a bigger picture issue. And a lot of things I’m going to say could be transitioned to any discussion about electronics, whether it be vehicles, whether it be e-bikes, whether it be electronic skateboards. Now, I’m starting to hear about or any other type of electronic mode of transportation for a lack of a better term. As it relates to different types of communities, so we have condominium associations, we have homeowners associations, townhome associations that we deal with, each one of those associations are governed by different statutes, and are governed by different types of governing documents for their associations. Obviously each state has its own statute. We work with associations in Wisconsin, in Indiana, in Illinois. I predominantly work in Wisconsin and Illinois. But it’s important to make sure you understand which statute applies to your association. Each statute is going to have a provision that talks about your right to adopt rules and regulations and I want to go through some of those different types of rules and regulations. Before I go into that, I also want to point out that your declaration is going to make it clear as to what you have the right as a board of directors to adopt rules and regulations regarding.
For instance, in a condominium association, you have a lot more rights to adopt rules and regulations as it relates to the property as a whole. That could be the use of your unit, the limit common elements to common elements. In homeowners associations or townhome associations, it might be restricted. You might see in your declaration that the board has the right to adopt reasonable rules and regulations as it relates to x. X might very well be the community area or the common area. So it’s important to not only understand which statute applies to you, but what limitations appear in your specific governing documents. So some examples of some of the rules that we see and that we recommend to our associations, again, based on what the statutes say and what governing documents say, are a myriad of different options. For instance, designated areas of operation. Okay, so where are there specific areas that you are going to allow an association member to operate an e-bike? That could be certain pathways, that could be certain roads, sidewalks, trails. You as the governing body for an association have the right to reasonably restrict the use and enjoyment of specific areas, again, based on what the statute says for your association and your governing documents.
Another great example is speed limits. As silly as that sounds, some of these different e-bikes have the ability to go at different speeds and you have a danger potential hazard for people’s safety. I will say about speed limits, something to consider is if you’re talking about restrictions on roadways, you have to be very careful to understand whether or not the association owns the roadways and actually has the ability to adopt restrictions on the roadways. In some circumstances, the municipality governs the roadways very similar to if you’re driving a vehicle on a roadway. A lot of times those speed limits are imposed by the municipality and the association does not have the right to restrict that. So as it relates to speed limits, I would be very careful to make sure that the association actually has the right to restrict the use of the roadway, for instance, speed.
Another example of a rule that we’ve seen is hours of operation. The association can adopt rules, reasonable rules about the hours of operation. For instance, if the board determines that it’s a much more of a risk or a hazard to be operating a e-bike after X hour, call it 9:00 AM, 10:00 AM because they might be potentially running up against vehicles and other people without lights, that would be a reason to talk about hours of operation in the community. Safety restrictions, as I kind of just touched on, require e-bike riders to wear helmets or reflective clothing while within the association. Another example of the board’s goal or goal should be to protect the safety of its members and its guests and the safety I can see being could be a very big issue for people burning up and down the street on an e-bike and if you’re the person on the e-bike, when you talk about the concept of potentially asking them to wear helmets or reflective clothing.
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So, a lot of these rules Mike, are designed, they’re meant to address safety and liability, like you mentioned, especially when it concerns risk to pedestrians potential property damage but it’s not always just property. Sometimes it’s noise limits, right?
Michael: Sure. So like anything else, so in an association, the other examples that we’ve seen for noise, before we were talking about e-bikes, e-vehicles. Noise could be somebody playing music too loud, right? It could be smells, somebody doing something that emits a smell throughout the entire association or community and it is a nuisance to other members. In this particular case, with an e-bike, the e-bike might be of a noise amount that would be offensive, in legal terms, obnoxious and offensive or a nuisance to other members and the board determines what amount of noise is unreasonable. So, some communities might decide to place a limit on the amount of noise. And that goes back to kind of the timing too. Like if you said that you don’t want people riding these bikes, e-bikes after a certain hour, the basis for that rule might very well be the noise that it emits.
Another example of something we see is age restrictions. This is another safety issue. E-Bikes can again go to certain speeds where the association may want to place the restriction on the age of the people who are allowed to ride e-bikes within the community purely from a safety standpoint. The board sets that amount, sets that age limit, but at the end of the day, if there is a small child riding around on an e-bike that’s going 20 miles an hour, that would be akin to putting somebody on a moped that’s going too fast that might not very well be able to handle riding such a vehicle. So that’s another example of a rule would be age restrictions. The other big one that comes up, and this is a kind of transition even into electric vehicles, is the power. As I just briefly touched on e-bikes, there are different types of e-bikes. Some e-bikes go into different speeds. We’ve seen e-bikes that have motors that can reach 20 miles an hour. We’ve seen e-bikes that go up as much as 28 miles per hour. The association could put a restriction on the types of power. Basically power equals speed from this restriction standpoint and I think that the association would have a reasonable or a rational basis for such a rule.
Bernie: And Mike, we’re not e-bike experts. There’s different variations of e-bikes, just like you mentioned. There’s different types of e-bike scooters and skateboards, but all of them work on power. So you have to address proper battery charging for e-bikes as well in the association, right?
Michael: Sure. So that kind of dovetails into what we talked about with electronic vehicles, these e-bikes will have to be plugged in. One of the biggest things that come out of electronic vehicles, again, that kind of encompasses all of these rights, so it’s modes of transportation, they require to be charged and you’re going to have situations where owners of these e-bikes are going to be approaching associations to plug in. I’ve seen things as strange as somebody running extension cords from their units or plugging into an association charging station, any electrical box they can find and try to charge their e-bikes. That is another major source of a potential rule to restrict how and where they can charge their e-bikes. With electronic vehicles we’ve seen and we do regularly have discussions with owners about trying to install a power source for them to charge their electronic vehicle or e-bike now. So the association has a vested interest in getting in front of individual owners who want to charge their e-bikes, not carrying them up into their units to charge them. They’re going to stay most likely in a limit common elements or common elements area, or that’s going to be the request and the association is going to have to try to control how individual owners charge their e-bikes.
Bernie: And I have to imagine, Mike, with like the hundreds of associations that you work with, a lot of this stuff is new for board members and for property managers. There haven’t been established rules on creating infrastructure. You’re kind of working with it as these issues are being presented to the board where you may have, like you mentioned, you yourself are an owner of an e-vehicle. So then you’ve had to address how you charge that car and you might have the ability to have a garage but like you mentioned before, the perfect example, you may have someone who doesn’t have that ability and they have an extension cord in a common area and then it starts dominoing cause you have so many other liability issues that could be presented from someone who’s trying to charge their e-bike or scooter.
Michael: Correct. So the reality is, and again it varies by the different types of association, but the association ensures, if it’s a condo association, they ensure the limit common element and the common element. So if you have the extension cord becomes a major issue for a couple of reasons. One, they were stealing power or taking power from the association, and two, it was a liability. It was a trip hazard, there was a cord running across the grass and people had tripped and fallen on the extension court. So, there’s a very good reason for the association to want to take control of the use and enjoyment. Again, coming back to that idea of the area outside of the units. Bringing me to another topic, which is going to be emerging as well, is the concept of registration and licensing. Every municipality is going to probably address these differently, whether or not they’re going to be required to be registered or licensed.
Now, that could be based on the municipality, but the association does have the right to require somebody to actually register or bring these electronic bikes into the association and fill out documentation on that so the association is aware of who has them, who is using them on the property, and it’s basically an extension of a census that we would do for something else, whether it be vehicles. The association has a vested interest in knowing what e-bikes are being used on the property and again, the municipality may very well have special licenses for them to be operated. So that’s going to be yet another thing that needs to be investigated as to whether or not they’re being regulated not only by the association, but by the municipality. The last rule that we see being put in place is proper storage. I kind of touched on this already. It is highly unlikely that somebody is going to want to bring, especially in a condominium association, their e-bike into their unit before and after every use of the e-bike. This is going to raise many questions about where is a proper storage area for the e-bikes. Is there going to be a designated space for them? Is the association then going to be required to probably put some kind of apparatus there for the bikes to be stored at, whether it be a bike rack, whether it be an enclosure, these are things that the association is likely to face based on the number of e-bikes that show up at your association. So, storage is going to be yet another issue that the association faces for e-bikes.
Bernie: 10 different potential rules and regulations. Mike, by way of summary, one, designated areas of operation, two, speed limits, three, hours of operation, four, safety restrictions, five, noise limits, six, age restrictions, seven, e-bike power, eight, registration and licensing, nine, proper battery charging, 10, proper storage. All examples but associations are different, communities are different, their needs are different. So, the rules they may want to establish will be unique to their community, to their neighborhood. So Mike, what does an association have to do to potentially establish rules governing e-documents?
Michael: Sure. So I kind of touched on this a little bit already, but the whole concept of rules and regulations in community associations, again, whether you’re HOA, a townhome or a condominium association that is governed, the right to adopt reasonable rules and regulations is governed by the governing documents, the declaration bylaws, and the rules and regulations. So, you want to look to, first of all, working with the association’s attorney. You want to look to the governing documents, and you want to follow the processes that are set forth in the governing documents to properly adopt reasonable rules and regulations. So you have the right to do this as an association, but you want to make sure that you are not contradicting your governing documents and not overextending what you actually have the right to restrict. Anybody who is interested in pursuing this, which I recommend as this is an emerging area not only for e-bikes but e-vehicles, that they consult with the association’s attorney to work through all of the different potential pitfalls and benefits of doing so.
Bernie: While the technology continues to change and this technology is more readily available and the infrastructure’s still being built, seems like what you’re saying is that board members, property managers can almost rely on their existing infrastructure, the governing documents, the rules that they already may use to regulate cars or even drones to regular e-bikes. But then on top of that, as the association’s attorney, not only are you working with the rules, but then there are other larger legal issues to take into account. You have state laws, fair housing, legislation, helmet wearing regulations, a lot of stuff that board members, property managers have to consider when regulating e-bikes.
Michael: Like anything else, when you adopt rules and regulations, they’re intended to be gap fillers to what’s in your governing documents. Most likely when your governing documents were put in place, the concept of e-bikes or e anything did not exist. So this is just another opportunity for the association to kind of fill a gap where one clearly exists because this was not something that had been previously contemplated.
Bernie: That was KSN attorney Michael Kreibich. Mike Practices condominium, townhome, and homeowner association law. KSN is an experienced legal resource ready to provide you with quality advice and exceptional service. We look forward to demonstrating how we’ve earned the trust of thousands of clients for over 40 years. If you’d like to reach Mike or any of KSN’s experience attorneys, please call 855-537-0500. You can also visit ksnlaw.com and complete the contact form to send us a message. Thanks for listening.
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