The residents of an estimated 3,255 apartments in five Montgomery County complexes are most immediately affected by last week's Maryland Court of Appeals ruling overturning a key portion of the county's condominium legislation.
While tenant's groups and their attorneys puzzle over how the ruling of the state's highest court will affect their efforts to purchase the buildings they live in, county officials say they are giving "serious consideration" to seeking new state legislation in Annapolis.
The ruling struck down that portion of the law allowing tenants the right to buy their buildings when condominium conversions were planned. the state court ruling held that the county law violated a state law requiring zoning and building statutes to be "uniformly applicable" to all types of buildings.
Montgomery County Attorney Paul McGuckian said he believes state property laws can be amended to give tenants threatened with displacement by any kind of property conversion -- not just by condominium conversions -- the so-called first right of refusal to purchase their home.
The five apartment complexes immediately affected are Greencastle Country Club Apartments, Parkside Plaza, the Falkland Apartments and Univesity Towers, all in Silver Spring, and Montgomery Village in Gaithersburg.
Before the law was struck down, owners of an apartment complex were required to give tenants 30 days to organize and 120 days to match the highest offer received for purchase of their building.
Greencastle tenants are likely to be the first to feel the effects of the ruling.
Owners Sal and Robert DeMaio, Frances Day Jr. and William Wheller, and the top bidder, Middle States Construction Corp., agreed on a sales contract last April and notified the tenants the following month. the tenants organized, hired a lawyer and prepared to meet the price within 120 days.
However, a second notice was sent to the tenants by Middle States on Aug. 26 saying the the firm planned to keep the units as rental apartments for two years. Middle States felt the tenants' right to match their offer to the owners was thus nullified.
The tenants disagreed, and on Oct. 7 they put down a $50,000 deposit on the buildings, which the owners accepted. On Nov. 3 both the owners and the tenants association announced they were prepared to go the settlement. Middle States immediately files suit against the tenants' association, the current owners and Montgomery County, seeking to halt the sale to the tenants.
Judge Lawrence Rodowsky, who wrote the majority opinion, acknowledged the ambiguity of the ruling, which has left lawyers for tenants' assoications and county officials unsure of how it affects tenant groups in the process of trying to purchase their buildings.
"That's the opinion of the court, and whatever happens as people interpret it or any litigation that is spawned from it is something that we'll just have to sit back and let the process happens as it develops," Rodowsky said.
At the Parkside Plaza apartments, tenants were notified in September that the owners, Edward and Samuel Perkins and Harold Kramer, had accepted a sale bid from the Artery Organization last May. The tenants organized and were working to match the bid before February, when the 120-day period would have expired.
The residents of Montgomery Village are in a similar predicament.
Kettler Bros, and principal owner of the complex, has agreed to sell to the buildings to Nordheimer brothers. Settlement is planned for next spring. In this case, however, the owners plan to convert the units to condominiums before the sale.
"The tenants were going to be officially notified of the contract sometime in January, and before the law was changed they still had the right to present a matching bid," said Edward Crowley, vice president of Kettler Bros.
Crowley said that Kettler Bros. would still consider selling the complex to the tenants' association if they offered a bid that matched the Nordheimer bid.
Although Falkland limited Partnership, the owners of the Falkland Apartments, have not accepted a bid yet, apartments have been on the market since August.
The tenants' association, which has raised more than $3,600, will soon be incorporated.
At a tenants' meeting last week, lawyer Philip Horowitz urged his clients to double the number of members of the organization within a week, although he said he is not sure how the ruling affects the Falkland.
Finally, seven weeks ago, the owners of University Towers announced that they plan to sell the apartments although no bid has yet been accepted, according to Irving Hurwitz of the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission.
Nearly 52,000 rental apartments in Montgomery County could be affected by last week's ruling, according to records of the Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs.