Smoke-Filled Rooms

How the landlord lobby limited the sprinkler law

Arguments about the cost of retrofitting buildings with sprinklers were so powerful— as were the people making those arguments— that citywide tenant groups sat this issue out. "My feeling was that retrofitting would be so expensive and there'd be so much resistance, we didn't even get involved," says Jenny Laurie, executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing. "The idea of retrofitting absolutely has merit, and I think we missed an opportunity, but my assumption from the beginning was that we would be so outgunned."

Tenants may have another issue to address if the council ultimately adopts the plan to install public-address systems to warn tenants of fire and instruct them on safe exits. McCaffrey says landlord lobbyists are already checking into whether the cost of such systems can be considered a "major capital improvement," which could be passed on incrementally— and perpetually— to tenants. Says McCaffery, "I already have tenants screaming at me about that."

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