See more of the story

Hoping to prevent another fire like the one that killed five people last year in Minneapolis, four DFL lawmakers unveiled legislation Wednesday that would require sprinklers to be installed in most old high-rise buildings in Minnesota.

The measure would give property owners until 2032 to add sprinklers to most high-rise buildings constructed before the sprinkler mandates took effect.

“Unfortunately, that incident should never have brought us here today talking about legislation,” said state Rep. Mohamud Noor, whose district includes the Cedar-Riverside high-rise. “We should never wait for devastation like that for us to act in order to bring change.”

It’s unclear exactly how many buildings would have to be retrofitted. The state has identified at least 40 older government-owned buildings without full sprinkler systems.

That includes the high-rise at the Cedar High Apartments, where five people died of smoke inhalation after a fire began just before Thanksgiving. That public housing building had a partial sprinkler system on lower levels but none inside the apartments where the fire began. Fire officials have said they think sprinklers would have saved lives.

Noor was joined Wednesday by Sen. Kari Dziedzic of Minneapolis and Reps. Alice Hausman and Tim Mahoney, both of St. Paul.

It’s unclear who would pay for the sprinkler upgrades. The legislators left open the possibility of using state bonding money, at least in public housing.

Noor said private owners can apply for a tax credit if they install sprinklers.

Similar bills moved through the Legislature in the 1990s. Twice, then-Gov. Arne Carlson, a Republican, vetoed the bills after lobbying by housing groups, who complained the bill had no funding.

The Minnesota Multi Housing Association, which represents some landlords in the state, said in a statement that it “supports naturally occurring affordable housing and is currently reviewing how it would be impacted by the sprinkler proposal.”

It continued: “If policymakers should decide to move forward with this, dedicated resources to keeping these units affordable when complying with the mandate should be a top priority.”

Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994