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December 05, 2017

You can set your house on fire in Pennsylvania and not be charged with arson

A Pennsylvania lawmaker wants to close a loophole in state law that may allow someone to set their own house on fire and not be charged with arson.

State Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh/Northampton, said Monday she recently came across a case in which a man intentionally set his house on fire for the sole reason he hated the home.

The person was charged with four counts of arson, but two counts were dismissed after the defense argued the wording of state law doesn't make the sole act of setting a structure ablaze a crime when the building is owned by the individual setting the fire and the flames don't put others in harm’s way.

Under state law, arson is defined as intentionally setting a fire or starting an explosion if the structure is occupied or the fire "recklessly places another person in danger of death or bodily injury, including but not limited to a firefighter, police officer or other person actively engaged in fighting the fire."

There are other classifications of arson under Pennsylvania law, such as setting someone else's property on fire and aggravated arson. But the base act of torching one's own home is not technically a crime.

"Whether an individual may feel that it is within their right to set fire to a structure because they own it and want to be rid of it, there are processes and safer options available to the homeowner, including proper demolition of a structure," Boscola wrote in a memo to other lawmakers.

Boscola noted there are plenty of alternatives to someone burning their house down, such as renovation, selling it or even just abandoning the home.

"Setting a home ablaze for no other purpose other than to get rid of it does not constitute an appropriate or rational choice," she wrote.

The senator intends to introduce legislation in the near future that would change the wording of the law.