Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, the Montgomery County Council and county delegates to the state legislature will work together for a state law that would authorize local jurisdictions to determine the rights of tenants in condominium conversions.
The decision comes just five weeks after a state appeals court ruling overturned a Montgomery law giving tenants the right to buy their buildings when conversions are planned.
In a memo sent to Scott Fosler, president of the County Council, discussing the decision, Gilchrist said, "We must make an all-out effort to obtain corrective legislation in Annapolis."
The memo also urged passage by the council of a bill which would give elderly and handicapped tenants the right to remain in their apartments for one to two years after their buildings are converted to condominiums. The council quickly passed the bill, which affects the elderly and disabled who live in apartments that were already up for sale at the time the appeals court handed down its decision.
Five complexes comprising approximately 3,255 units fall into that category: Greencastle Country Club Apartments, Parkside Plaza, Falkland Apartments and University Towers, all in Silver Spring, and Montgomery Village in Gaithersburg.
Several council members said they received a flood of letters and phone calls from distressed tenants and a petition with approximately 70 signatures from the Parkside Tenants Association urging a moratorium on condominium conversions.
An immediate moratorium was ruled out, according to Blair Lee, IV, director of the office of state affairs for the county, who added, "That doesn't mean it won't be used in the future.
"Montgomery County suffers from the highest rate of condominium conversion of any county in the state and it's one of the worst in the country," Lee said.
Council President Fosler believes getting a bill passed in Annapolis will require an intense lobbying effort by tenants and county officials.
"The record of the legislature has not been good in this regard. Tenants are going to have to work on the state level since it's clearly a state matter now," Fosler said.
The most verbal reaction from renters came at a public hearing held by the council last week on rent controls in the county, which are due to end on Jan. 31.
"I was about the 18th person to speak and everyone before me talked mainly about losing the first right of refusal (the right to buy a building) or the moratorium," said Morris Altman, president of the Parkside Plaza Tenants Association.
Meanwhile, residents of Parkside Plaza and the Falkland Apartments are still actively attempting to purchase their complexes.
The tenants of Montgomery Village Apartments, however, appear to have lost their drive to purchase the 1,150-unit complex. A meeting soon after the high court ruling drew 300 enthusiastic residents. Less than 30 attended a meeting the following week.
Ann Garfinkle, counsel for the Parkside Tenants Association, said she believes the appeals court decision requires the lower Circuit Court to decide before the end of December whether the five complexes must abide by the high court decision.
Phil Horowitz, counsel for the Falkland Tenants Association, and Patrick McKeever, attorney for Montgomery Village tenants, said they were studying Garfinkle's interpretation.