Kristie EngermanHousing affordability, consumer choice, and inherent private property rights remain the three key reasons why REALTORS® across the state continue to oppose a requirement to install fire sprinkler systems in new single-family homes. Sprinkler systems can add thousands of dollars to the cost of a new home, and the impact on new construction can be devastating.

The fire sprinkler mandate for residential new construction first appeared in the 2009 version of the International Code Council’s (ICC) International Residential Code. The ICC is a membership association that develops codes for local governments regarding the construction of residential and commercial buildings. The ICC publishes new codes every three years. Most cities, counties and states that adopt codes choose building safety codes developed by the ICC, though they are not required to do so. They can also amend an ICC code to exclude sections they choose not to enforce.

Many local governments in Central/Western Illinois have deemed the sprinkler mandate as unnecessary and have cited the requirement as the specific reason for not adopting the 2009 and even the 2012 versions of the code. We acknowledge and appreciate their good judgment. Still, other municipalities are taking a closer look at adopting the code, and it is at that point when REALTORS® take action.

The proactive REALTOR® agenda includes utilizing the IAR Advocacy Program brochure, “The Impact of Mandating Residential Fire Sprinkler Systems,” and the results of an IAR public opinion poll conducted in Central Illinois. This poll was done to gauge people’s attitudes about sprinklers to determine homebuyers’ wants and preferences.

The survey results clearly indicate a strong preference for homebuyer choice—94% said homebuyers should be able to choose to install a sprinkler, not be required to install one because local government says so.

REALTORS® also conducted numerous meetings with city staff who ultimately make policy recommendations to their elected bodies. This involves conversations with city council members who will cast the final vote and effectively collaborating with local Home Builder Associations to make a unified case against the negative impact the sprinkler mandate could have on new construction, not only now but when the home building market begins to improve.

REALTORS® have achieved success with some towns choosing to disregard the sprinkler mandate, and we have more work to do in other locales which are yet undecided.

So just when you think things couldn’t get much worse for new-home sales (new construction permits are down 46 to 67 percent from a year ago in some areas), REALTOR® associations in Central/Western Illinois are working hard to prevent a policy which could put builders of new homes at even more of a competitive disadvantage. We continue to protect housing affordability, consumer choice, and private property rights.

Kristie Engerman is the Illinois Association of REALTORS® local Government Affairs Director (GAD) representing the Bloomington-Normal, Lamoine Valley, Livingston, Mid-Valley, Pekin Area, Peoria Area, Quad City Area, Quincy and West Central Associations of REALTORS®.