By Steven M. Williams, Esq.
In December 2009, Pennsylvania became the first state in the country to require that fire sprinklers be installed in all new residential construction. The law took effect on January 1, 2010 for townhouses and is scheduled to become effective for one- and two-family homes on January 1, 2011.
This new requirement has been met with some controversy. Home builders and builders associations, who strenuously fought the requirement, complained that mandatory sprinklers would add significant costs to the construction of new homes. They argued that such additional costs should not be imposed on home buyers in an already sluggish economy. In stark contrast, firefighters and sprinkler installation contractors applauded the new requirement as a long-awaited step in the fight to save lives from home fires. They dismissed the cost factor argued by contractors, and maintained that the lives saved by sprinklers would far outweigh the costs involved.
The fight over sprinklers in one- and two-family homes is not over though. In April 2009, House Bill 1196 (HB 1196) was introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to address the implementation of the residential fire sprinkler mandate. Since April, HB 1196 has been floundering in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. In mid-October 2010, however, the Pennsylvania Senate, which has generally favored delaying the sprinkler requirement, inserted into HB 1196 a provision that would do just that. As amended, HB 1196 would delay the implementation of the sprinkler requirement for one year - until January 1, 2012 - in all new one- and two-family homes.
On October 14, 2010, the Pennsylvania Senate passed HB 1196, as amended, and sent it back to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for a concurrence vote. However, the House recessed before it could take up the matter, announcing that it would not be back in session until after the election. After this announcement, it was reported that the House would not come back into session this year to consider any legislation. Subsequently, official reports indicated that the House would take up HB 1196 when it reconvenes after the election. More recently, however, the Democratic majority in the House notified House members that all remaining session days for 2010 were being cancelled and that no bills would be considered. A small group of Democratic members have asked the leadership to reconsider so that the House can vote on outstanding legislation. Whether this will actually happen is not certain.
If the House does not approve the Senate’s amendment to HB 1196, it is almost certain that the sprinkler requirement will become effective on January 1, 2011. However, if the House does approve the Senate’s changes, the bill will go to Governor Rendell for consideration. While nothing official has come out of the Governor’s office, it is well known that Rendell generally favors delaying the sprinkler requirement and supports the Senate’s amendment to HB 1196. It remains to be seen, however, whether Rendell will, in fact, sign HB 1196 in the lame duck session.
Cohen Seglias will continue to monitor the progress of this pending legislation and update you on any developments.
Steven M. Williams is a partner in the Harrisburg office of Cohen Seglias and a member of the firm's Commercial Litigation and Business Transactions Groups. His practice is concentrated in the areas of real estate, landlord and tenant law, construction and employment law. Steve can be reached at (717) 234-5530 or firstname.lastname@example.org.