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June 28, 2010

Update on the sprinklers-for-rehabs proposal

The Baltimore City Council bill requiring fire sprinkler systems was approved and signed into law last week -- but for new homes only, not rehabs.

The original proposal brought a chorus of rehabber protests because it would have mandated sprinklers on any project covering at least 30 percent of the home's gross floor area, a threshold that would include do-it-yourself replacement of carpet as well as major rehabilitation efforts.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who sponsored the bill with Councilman Warren Branch, said after the early June hearing that she would amend the bill so only gut rehabs -- major projects -- would require sprinklers. But real estate investors were still opposed. Baltimore's housing agency estimated the expense of installing a system in an existing home at $13,000 to $15,000, much more than in a home being built from scratch. 

"What passed finally was new-construction only," Clarke said. "There's no rehabs in the bill anymore."

She said she's disappointed and hopes to try again.

"I’m going to take some time this summer with the fire marshal and the contractors and the water department and make sure we get the price that we all agree it costs, and we've got all systems supporting what needs to happen for the cost to be minimal," Clarke said.  

Some of you commented on the earlier posts to say you supported the idea and thought it would save lives. Many of you said "thumbs down," noting the cost and the likelihood of fewer rehabs as a result.

Pete from Highlandtown wrote, "This is not going to be a matter of a few rich guys making $15,000 less on each house. This is going to be about guys with low profit margins going out of business because they cant afford to fix up houses.

"I never have made more than $17,000 in my life. And i was never sad about that. I was content with my life and my income. But now even $ 15-$17 thousand dollars a year is something that i cannot achieve working construction in Baltimore. I am a hard worker who has never been on unemployment or any kind of welfare. But its obvious to me that the City doesnt care about people like me."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Real estate investing, Renovation/rehab


Maybe at some point when the economy is healthy, stock markets are back up, housing market is back on its feet, people will feel good about going the extra mile for sprinkler systems. But now would have been the worst possible time to saddle people with additional costs of this scale. Many prospective tenants are refugees from forclosed homes and close to bankrupt themselves, many landlords and owner occupants are having to cut back to bare essentials on maintenance and fix up.

One of the few things that might.... and here I'm willing to stand corrected... might make sense for the older Baltimore housing stock is to link up the sprinkler idea to the installation of AC systems, and have some of the ducts/conduits areas do double duty with the sprinkler apparatus. Or, obviously, in gut rehab situations in which plumbing and wiring is being replaced in any event.

Still a nice victory for the sprinkler manufacturers and installers. Bad news for builders and buyers of new homes.

It would be interesting to see which could do more property damage... The standard household fire, or a thorough drenching from a sprinkler system.

The idea of having sprinkler systems in residential property is great in theory but I am a landlord in Baltimore City that at times has to evict tenants because of obvious reasons . It is very common for tenants to damage a property in retaliation for being evicted . What happens when a third story tenant decides to hold a lighter up to a sprinkler head and floods the whole building ?

Well hopefully you won't get a fire and you'll be more careful. It's not something that's going to happen once a month!

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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
Baltimore Sun articles by Jamie

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