Why aren't there sprinklers in most of Los Angeles's residential high-rises? Short story: because property owners don't want to pay for them. Longer story: In 1974, the LA City Council voted that high-rise apartment and condo developments built before that year didn't need to have sprinklers, because obviously they are immune from fires. (That's the same year the fire code changed to require helipads on all high-rises, but still sprinklers were up for debate.) Fire-suppression systems became a requirement for new buildings that year, but older buildings were exempt—at the time, the biggest opponents to retrofitting pre-1974 buildings were their owners, concerned about the cost of the additions, according to KPCC. The issue came up again in 1988, when there was a terrible fire at the pre-1974 First Interstate Bank Tower in Downtown, which didn't have sprinklers because it wasn't required to.
The fire prompted the City Council to change their tune, but only for commercial buildings; the condo lobby apparently presented a powerful argument against the proposition to require older residential high-rises to have sprinklers, again citing high costs (of installing sprinklers; low cost of human lives, obviously), and won. Fast forward to 2014, and there are 60 high-rise complexes in Los Angeles that do not have sprinklers. One of them is the Barrington Plaza, which suffered a blaze last October. Opponents of installing sprinklers debate how effective they really are but a fire inspector says "A sprinkler may not put the fire out, [b]ut it'll keep it in check, keep it small, keep it from spreading."
· Gap in law leaves many LA residential high-rises without sprinkler systems [SCPR]