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House passes measure requiring fire sprinkler systems in tall residential buildings

Five people died in a November 2019 fire that started on the 14th floor of the Cedar High Apartments in Minneapolis.

Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Mpls) represents the area and wants to ensure it doesn’t happen at the public housing complex  — or anywhere — again.

“Our community lost so much on that day,” he said.

Noor sponsors HF109, which would require existing residential buildings above the 75-foot reach of fire department vehicles to install automatic sprinkler systems, already a requirement for buildings built after 1979.

High-rise residential buildings built prior to that date would need to be retrofitted with sprinklers meeting current building code specifications.

On a 103-30 vote Monday, the House passed the bill and sent it to the Senate, where Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Mpls) is the sponsor.

Noor knew the victims who died on that day.

“The loss of life and the devastation that I saw requires us to act immediately,” he said.

Noor said similar bills in 1994 and 1995 were vetoed by then-Gov. Arne Carlson, who later said he erred.

“Today is the day we correct that mistake and ensure that individuals have safety in their homes,” he said.

Rep. Tim O'Driscoll (R-Sartell) supports the bill, despite some worry that sprinkler retrofitting could be too costly for some landlords, who then might have to get out of the rental business altogether, causing renters to be displaced.

“I hope that we are at the beginning of this process and that we can find some money to relieve the burden for private owners as well as public owners and keep properties affordable and keep the housing stock available for people,” O’Driscoll said.

The deadline for having sprinklers fully installed would be Aug. 1, 2033, but the bill would leave open the possibility of extensions being granted.

The Minnesota Fire Association Coalition, which includes the state fire marshal, fire chiefs, and the Minnesota State Fire Department Association, supports the proposed legislation, Noor said.

Certain types of buildings, and spaces within buildings, would be exempt including buildings where specific activities occur, such as monuments, airport control, parking, agriculture, elevators, electric plants, and telecommunications.

Also exempt would be places where other types of safety laws apply, such as surgical facilities licensed by the Department of Health, manufacturing facilities covered by federal fire standards, and most condominium buildings, such as those in which at least 70% of the dwelling units are owner-occupied.

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