The two-year moratorium in the city prohibiting the conversion of apartment buildings to condominiums was lifted five months ago, but only 16 buildings, totalling 884 units, have asked for or been given permission to convert by the city government.
And the owners of some of these buildings are now hesitating on the conversion question.
"I know there was a fear that because of rent control there would be a deluge of new condominiums but that has not been the case," said Michael Brenneman, president of Brenneman Associates, a firm specializing in condominium sales and management.
The great popularity of condominiums that led to the conversion of approximately 2,000 units in the year and a half prior to the moratorium has now ebbed for two reasons, Brenneman said.
"Many are just sitting back," he said, because the glut of condominiums that stung Northern Virginia developers "has left some lingering bad taste in lenders' and developers' mouths."
The second factor is the city's lack of staff for its condominium regulation office. Beth Marcus, the city's condominium specialist, must singlehandedly review all conversion applications and all registration applications and prepare the rules and regulations for implementation of the new law, Brenneman said.
While praising Marcus' work, Brenneman said she needs help because "there is a bottleneck there . . . that's acting as an inhabiting factor."
"The department agress that more staff is necessary," Marcus said. "It (condominiums) is a high priority item but there are many high priority items and there are not enough funds."
"But no one has been bottlenecked on conversion applications," she said.
The buildings that have obtained permission to convert, if they wish, are all high-rent buildings or buildings that have been vacant and boarded up for some time.
Under the new condominium law, which took effect last summer, high rent buildings may convert simply by proving that they are qualified for that category. The law is considerably more stringent for the conversion of buildings with lower rents.
The law allows conversion of these buildings only if a majority of the heads of households living in the building agree to the conversion, or if the citywide vacancy rate for low-and moderate-priced apartments exceeds 3 per cent.
The largest building to receive permission to convert is the 203-unit Rittenhouse Apartments at 6101 16th St. NW, which is owned by Oliver J. Cowan, a real estate salesman.
Cowan asked for permission to convert because under rent control, "I'm losing $100,000 a year," he said. "Any time a building has 100 per cent occupancy and a waiting list and is losing money it's rent control," he said.
"They (the rent control commission) don't tell Pepco and the utilities companies what they cannot do but apartment owners must receive permission to raise rents," he said. "It's really, really been rouhg. I've been across the coals," he said.
Despite his alleged financial problems, Cowan is undecided about the conversion now. "I'm just sitting. I have to seriously go through the numbers. It's a big decision."
Building contractor Michale D. Minkoff is another owner undecided about conversion, although he now has the right.
"The condominium market is so bad," said Minkoff, the owner of 1915 Calvert St. NW. "Nothing is selling," he said, giving a partial explanation of his hesitation about whether the building will be condominiums or apartments when workmen finish their work on the 14 units that have been vacant for some time and damaged by recent fires.
His order reason is, "I'm not sure that condos will sell in the 1900 block of Calvert. It's still a rough area," he admitted.
Several other owners who have recently received conversion permission and who are moving ahead with these plans cited rent control as the determing factor in their decision.
"I saw no potential for owning property under rent control . . . you can no longer operate (a building) as a rental. If the expenses go up and you cannot raise the rent," said David Bindement, president of Landmark Realty.
His company sold its building at 4701 Connecticut Ave, NW on Jan. 1 to new owners who will convert the 57-unit building to condominiums.
The hardships created by rent control have also led the owners of 2205 California St. NW, and the Highland at 1914 Connecticut Ave., to conversions.
"The building is not doing well under rent control," said Malcolm E. peabody, the owner of 2205 California St. NW. "There is not much return and condominiums are the obvious way out. There is no way you can rehabilitate a building under rent control. You must ask the (rent control) commission whether you can renovate and show there is no hardship on the tenants," he said.
His building needs a new plumbing system and other improvements, Peabody said. He also owns the adjacent building, which suffers from similiar problem, but he cannot convert that one because the rents put it in the category that require that a majority of the families living there agree to the conversion.
Peabody has kept his tenants informed of his plans to convert the building, said Nancy GordenM who has lived in the building since May.
Just the opposite apparently is the case at the Highland. Paul Wallig, who has lived in the building one and half years, said he knew of no conversion plans until a reporter told him.
Morris Milgran, the general partner of California Street Limited Partnerships, which owns the building, said the firm has reached a tentative agreement of sale because "the building partly due to rent control has a very low potential!"
The partnership bought the 145-unit building 12 years ago "to show that integration works. Our group is dedicated to open housing," he said.
The new condominium law has also persuaded some owners to renovate buildings that remained boarded up for several years. Workmen are now hammering away at 1018 East Capitol St., building six new high-priced condominiums. The building has long been an eyesore on Lincoln Park.
The boards should also come off 1718 Corcoran St. soon.
Other buildings that have received permission to convert are located at 1831 California St. NW, 1746-56 Corcoran Stree, which are now selling, the last 285 units at Fairfax Village, 1821-25 Riggs Pl., 309 4th St. SE, 115 E St. SE, 11 2d St. NE, and 1901-19th St. NW.
Brenneman estimated that about 100 new condominium units that are now under construction will be ready for sale later this year, including the 41-unit Worland on Massachusetts and the 34-unit Georgetown Overlook at 1318 22d St. NW.