From the living room window of her fourth-floor Arlington apartment, Colette Collier gazed wistfully across the Potomac at the Capitol, the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, sparkling in the summer sunset.
It was moving day for the 27-year-old piano-tuner and as she packed, she recalled some happier moments, including the Fourth of July parties when friends came to watch the fireworks. Then, there were the 7 a.m. wakeup "calls" provided by the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps practicing at the nearby the Iwo Jima memorial. And there were the new friendships that developed among tenants as they tried to prevent the conversion of the Radnor Heights garden apartment complex to condominiums.
For the breathtaking view, and a location just blocks from a Metro stop, Collier had paid $192 a month, hundreds less than tenants in a nearby high-rise with a comparable view.
As she finished loading suitcases, plants and food for the move to her new two-bedroom, $370-a-month apartment a mile away, Collier said she was resigned to the loss of a view, but not to how it was lost.
She and others in the tenant organization, TOMARO -- an acronym for the tenants' organization of four buildings, the Marlo 1 and 2, Arclo and Radnor -- have turned to state and local officials for help.
As a result, Arlington Commonwealth's Attorney Henry Hudson says he is investigating the tenants' complaints that owners of the four-building complex -- Shelton Zuckerman and Cbi Fairmac Realty Corp. -- violated state condominium conversion rules by submitting misleading documents to the Virginia Real Estate Commission.
"At the request of a number of tenants and the tenants' organization, I am reviewing the matter to determine whether there might be any criminal improprieties in connection with the filing of the application or the project itself," Hudson said this week. He expects the review to take two more weeks.
Ronald L. Walutes, the attorney for Fairmac, which owns 75 percent of the project, called the tenants' claims "nonsense." He added: "There has been no fraud."
The Virginia Real Estate Commission also has been asked to investigate the tenants' allegations of fraud and impropriety by the developers. The commission is empowered to revoke condominium registrations, a move that would cut off financing from a developer.
Last year tenants founded TOMARO in an attempt to buy the four buildings and convert them into a cooperative with federal aid. But the project fell through three days before the scheduled closing this May when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development refused to approve a low-interest loan.
Most of the tenants at the 115-unit Radnor Heights -- renamed Rosslyn Heights -- now are gone from the complex some knew as home for 27 years. The others must be out by Aug. 31.
The tenants' say their principal complaint is that they were not notified at the outset how much it would cost to buy their units, thereby making it difficult to make a decision on whether to try to purchase a unit.
They contend that they should not have been given notice to vacate until the prices for their units were established.
The Virginia Condominium Act, as it existed in May, required that tenants be given 90 days notice of a planned condominium conversion, which also could act as a notice to vacate. During the first 60 days, tenants were to have an exclusive right to purchase their units if the unit was to be retained without substantial physical alterations.
(Amendments to the act that took effect July 1 now provide for a 120-day notice.)
When the developers sent out the notice on May 29 to vacate, no prices were given for the units. It was not until 27 days later that any prices were released, and then only for the 29-unit Radnor building.
However, Fairmac attorney Walutes said an Arlington Circuit Court judge recently held that the law did not require the developer to list prices when the 90-day notice to vacate is given.
"The judge said it was not necessary to set the price at all," Walutes said. "He decided that the language amounted to giving the tenant the right of first refusal before selling to any third parties."
The developers also required that a $250 refundable deposit be made by Aug. 10 if a tenant wanted to qualify for a $3,000 discount on the unit's price. The tenant then had 10 days in which to sign a contract to purchase the unit.
The prices for the Radnor units range from $55,000 for a one-bedroom unit to $80,000 for a two-bedroon unit. At a tenant-landlord commission meeting in July, representatives of the owners said the prices in the other three buildings -- where some of the units have magnificent views -- could be as much as 20 percent more.
The median income of families in the complex was $15,700 , according to a tenant study.
But J.D. Lee, president of Fairmac, said recently the prices still could not be predicted because economic factors could change.
"I haven't had the opportunity to go out and do comparative shopping because I don't know what they'll charge for this unit," said Don Denmark, who rents a two-bedroom unit at 1220 N. Meade St., the South Marlo building. The tenants also complain that substantial changes were made in the condo conversion plan filed with the state real estate commission, without proper notice and approval.
"They led me to believe they would sell the apartment to me 'as is,'" said Denmark who has invested more than $3,000 to modernize his impressively decorated, sleek two-bedroom unit.
Denmark, who has vowed he will fight the developers in court, said he was told recently by Fairmac representatives that there would be more extensive renovations than originally planned, so there would be no "as is" sales.
A statement accompanying the conversion papers filed with the state real estate commission said tenants could purchase their units 'as is,' but it has subsequently been amended.
Fairmac lawyer Alutes contends the amendments are proper. The final public offering statement for the conversion was approved by the real estate commission on Aug. 10 and, until then, the developers' plans could be amended as often as desired, Walutes said. Since no public offering statement has ever been sent to the tenants by the developers, whatever information they got from the commission was informal and not final, he said.
"To the extent that people are yelling (about the changes), that's whistling in the wind because we never showed them a public offering statement," Walutes said.
The filing change that particularly rankles TOMARO members was the one notifying the real estate commission of the new partnership, Radnor Heights Associates, formed by Zuckerman and CBI Fairmac.
On March 10, 1980, Zuckerman filed condominium conversion plans with the state real estate commission stating he was the sole owner. Eighty days later, on May 29 -- when the notices went out to tenants -- Zuckerman amended his filing to say Fairmac had formed a partnership with him on Feb. 28. Fairmac, the tenants subsequently learned, would own 75 percent of the project.
Fairmac president Lee said Fairmac's involvement "was immaterial. . . . It was legal, so it's immaterial. I'm really dumbfounded as to what all this noise is about." Zuckerman could not be reached for comment.
Many tenants, like Collier, say they will not continue with the fight to keep their homes. Of the battles during the last year, Collier, rummaging through boxes at her new apartment, said, "We were playing in the NFL without shoulder pads."