Sound the (Regulatory) Alarm! Pending Massachusetts Legislation Affecting Contractors and Suppliers

The 188th Session of the Massachusetts Legislature (known formally as “the General Court”) opened on January 2, 2013.   Already, there are several pieces of pending legislation that have the potential to affect both general contractors and more targeted subcontractors/suppliers.   A slew of legislative bills currently under consideration have been proposed with the aim of improving building safety within the Commonwealth, through mandatory (though potentially costly) alarm and sensor requirements:

  1. A residential sprinkler code, defeated in the 187th Legislative Session, has once again been proposed in several different forms.   Essentially, this legislation would require that all newly constructed one and two family residential dwellings include an automatic standalone fire sprinkler system.
  2. House Bill 2148, “An Act Relative to Natural Gas Alarms,” provides that every building or structure containing methane or propane-emitting equipment be equipped by the owner with a working, approved natural gas alarm; the bill also allows for the State Board of Building Regulations and Standards [BBRS] to adopt stricter natural gas alarm requirements for newly constructed dwellings and structures.
  3. “An Act Relative to Landscape Sprinkler Systems,” HB 2200 directs the BBRS to amend the State Building Code and require that rain sensor devices be installed on new or renovated landscape sprinkler systems (the point of such devices being to automatically suspend sprinkler operation during periods of rain).
  4. “An Act Relative to Swimming Pool Alarms” requires that — you guessed it — every swimming pool (public, private, in-ground and above-ground, including hot tubs) have a pool alarm installed, with annual inspections.   Presumably, this would mean that all properties with a pool or hot tub would have to be registered with the town or city.

In addition to these proposed safety regulations, a quiet battle continues to be waged as to the ability of towns and cities to apply their own “local” building codes and ordinances, whether more or less stringent than those enumerated in the State Building Code.   As noted in our previous blog, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that, unless authorized by the Legislature, individual towns and cities are not free to adopt by-laws and ordinances inconsistent with the State Building Code.   However, certain State Building Code amendments do in fact provide for local “opt-in” (or out) voting by towns and cities.   Not surprisingly, then, a bill has already been proposed in the 188th Session which would prohibit the BBRS from adopting any amendment containing  a “local option” clause   (whether this bill would apply retroactively to amendments already passed on a local option basis is not clear).