In the latest round of a dispute between Arlington housing officials and the owners of the Claremont Apartments, the county Tenant-Landlord Commission has questioned the legality of a letter offering financial incentives to some tenants if they vacate their units by Nov. 30.

The letter was sent by Klingbeil Management Company to approximately 52 households in the 500-unit complex.

Last week, the commission agreed to ask the Virginia Real Estate Commission to rule on the letter.

In the letter, dated Nov. 9, the Klingbeil Company offered to pay moving expenses for those residents who move to other apartments in the Claremont complex. The company also rescinded a 30-day notice to vacate that had been sent to the 52 households earlier. The 30-day notice was subsequently questioned by the state Real Estate Commission.

Since purchasing Claremont, which houses an estimated 2,000 tenants - many of them low-income, minority residents - Klingbeil officials have said they intend to convert the project to condominiums. Under Virginia law, tenants must be give a 90-day notice to vacate, including a 60-day option to purchase their units. Conversion papers also must be filed with the Virginia Real Estate Commission.

So far, no conversion papers have been filed. Instead, Klingbeil official Dale Shedd has announced that the company intends to rehabilitate part of the complex and "see whether conversion is financially feasible or whether we should just rehabilitate the units."

"We have your best interest in mind and our notice to you (to vacate) is rescinded," the Nov. 9 letter said. "However, construction is coming, and it will be a messy inconvenience."

Fran Lunney, executive director of the Arlington Tenant-Landlord Commission, accused the Klingbeil company at the commission meeting last week, of "circumventing the law."

"Even though the 30-day notices were revoked, they had their desired effect. All but a certain amount of people are leaving," Lunney said.

"The letter (of Nov. 9) basically gives the tenants less time to move than the 30-day notices," said commission chairman Al Eisenberg. "It only gives them 21 days. The tone of this thing tends to shove them right out."

Shedd said at the meeting that the offer to pay moving expenses will be extended to Dec. 15 and will include moves within the Claremont complex and within a two- to three-mile radius complex. He said the company would be willing to negotiate with tenants who might have a problem moving by Dec. 15.

Shedd said he would be willing to discuss individual moving, shipping and handling expenses, as well as telephone reinstallation and other costs.

Claremont tenants who decide to move from one section of the complex to another or the the Burkingham complex, which Klingbeil also owns, will be able to get a comparable unit for the same rent and a one-year lease, Shedd said.

He added that one-year leases were available for about one-third of the 500 units in the Claremont complex.

"It was our intention all along to vacate the area as fast as possible," Shedd told the commission. "The intentions of our Nov. 9 letter were not meant to change our position, change the timing or offer false hope. We are willing to come through with financial incentives.

"We fully intend to rehab. We have not given up the idea of reaching agreement with the people who are still there."

Helen Bachmann, a resident of 2705 S. Walter Reed Dr., was one of the two Claremont tenants at the meeting. "I'm looking for a retirement home so I won't have to move again," she told the commission.She said she would not have decided to try to move to a retirement home if the situation at the Claremont had not changed.

"We have a dearth of low-income housing in the county.Folks are losing their homes to condominiums," chairman Eisenberg said. "Arlington is ripe for condo conversion."