A. D. C. Superior Court Judge has rejected a request from a group of developers that the city claims would have led to the conversion of 9,000 apartments into condominiums, many of them units occupied by low-income and elderly people.
Judge George H. Revercomb's decision last week clarified his 1979 ruling that the D. C. City Council unlawfully had passed successive emergency moratoriums on condominium conversions in violation of the city's Home Rule Act.
The Washington Home Ownership Council, Inc., had asked Revercomb to permit developers whose condominium conversion applications had been blocked by the moratoriums for permission to proceed since the moratoriums were later found to be invalid. The city did not pass permanent legislation restricting the conversions until last summer.
Revercom's ruling, in effect, means that the permanent legislation covers the restrictions on the conversions, just as if the emergency legislation found unlawful had been valid.
He said he made his decision because the city's "massive problem of relocating displaced tenants" outweighed the "valuable economic interests" denied to condominium converters.
"Many of the displaced tenants would be the elderly persons probably unable fully to bear or to shift the cost of the District's error [in passing successive pieces of emergency legislation]," the judge said. "Many of these persons would encounter significantly higher rents or, worse, no reasonably affordable vacancies at all."
According to James R. Murphy, the Assistant Corporation Counsel who handled the case, the city estimated that about 80 apartment buildings, containing about 9,000 rental units and between 10,000 and 20,000 tenants, might have been affected if Revercomb had granted the developers' broad request. "The condominium developers would have been lined up at the door saying they should be allowed to convert," he said.
"We're disappointed obviously," said G. V. (Mike) Brenneman, chairman of the condominum converters' organization. "Those builders in the process of taking constructive steps towards conversion should have been allowed." However, Brenneman disputed the city's figures on the number of possible conversions, saying that many developers who might have been eligible to convert apartments would not immediately have done so.
Stephen M. Sacks, the attorney for the developers' organization, said the group is considering whether to appeal Revercomb's ruling.
The District of Columbia had opposed the developers' request, arguing that the moratorium's effect should remain intact, even though the emergency legislation was found invalid on procedural grounds, not substantative violations of the law.
D.C. housing director Robert L. Moore said the judge's ruling is a victory for city tenants. "It is my judgment that the potential for such conversions would result in chaos and uncertainty in the city's housing market and a panic among many of the city's tenants." he said.
"Further," Moore said, "such conversions would exacerbate the city's housing crisis and force thousands of displaced tenants, many of whom are elderly or lower income, to seek alternative housing during a severe housing shortage which particularly affects them."
It was not immediately clear whether Revercomb's decision would affect pending litigation concerning other emergency acts passed by the council that later were found invalid because his ruling is not binding on other Superior Court judges.