CEO Blog: The Huge “Win” You May Never Notice

Matt Morrow
HBA CEO Matt Morrow

We all have our guilty pleasures, and one of mine is disaster movies. Armageddon. Deep Impact. 2012. Independence Day (okay, one of my other guilty pleasures is movies about invading space monkeys).

A recurring theme in disaster movies is the “narrowly-averted-catastrophe-that-no-one-saw-coming.” By the heroic, just-in-time actions of a few brave (and usually stunningly attractive) Hollywood leads, life is allowed – against all odds – to continue as usual. The storyline varies little: 1) Huge, unexpected threat emerges; 2) heroes rally; 3) threat defeated; 4) life returns to normal.

Today (yes, this very day), here in the real world, a new law goes into affect. For home builders and others in the housing industry, it is arguably the most significant new law to hit the books in Missouri, ever. Yet, when it takes effect today, it is likely that few will even notice.

If you have not been following the nationwide battle over mandatory residential fire sprinklers, you’ve missed quite a show. In 2008, the International Code Council code adoption process was hi-jacked by opportunistic sprinkler manufacturers and some well-intentioned (but misguided) fire officials. The result was a new mandate in the International Residential Code for residential fire sprinkler systems in all new homes.

Nevermind that the mandate would save no lives and would permanently confine thousands of poorer families to older, fire-prone housing. Facts like these were simply ignored in the rush to approve the costly new mandate.

And suddenly, the clock was ticking.

The 2009 IRC now included a costly and unnecessary residential fire sprinkler mandate. Any municipality or state that adopted the code would either adopt it “as-is” (including the mandate), or be put in the politically ticklish position of amending it out of the building code.

In Missouri, our only hope for consistently protecting housing affordability was to act at the state level. Legislation was needed to prohibit political subdivisions from mandating residential fire sprinklers – or the mandates would come to our municipalities and counties automatically.

So, HBA went to work. We successfully lobbied in 2009 for a two-year ban on sprinkler mandates with what is now known as Missouri’s “mandatory option” for fire sprinklers. No one is required to buy them. But builders are required to provide the option to their customers. “Mandatory Option” was a win-win, keeping the fire sprinklers decision where it belongs: in the hands of informed consumers.

That provision was set to expire at the end of this year and the 2012 IRC still contains the sprinkler mandate. If allowed to expire, municipalities would again be put in the position of adopting the mandatory sprinklers by “fiat” starting in 2012.

It is quite difficult today to get new homes financed – or even to convince customers of the value of buying a new home at all in this economic climate. Can you imagine if every new home suddenly cost $5,000 to $10,000 more for an “upgrade” that customers didn’t want, and that would do nothing for the home’s appraised value?

So, again, your HBA dedicated substantial time and resources to address a legislated solution. Our efforts successfully extended “Mandatory Option” through the year 2019. The Texas-sized asteroid that was hurtling toward earth has been deflected at the eleventh hour. And only those who were watching very closely will long recall that the threat ever existed.

But that’s often the nature of effective advocacy. Big changes in the law get all the attention. And there certainly is a need for that type of advocacy (“Right to Repair” comes to mind). But often the most important service an organization like the HBA can provide its members is successful advocacy that goes nearly unnoticed – advocacy that allows HBA members to go about their business as if nothing ever happened!