Nearly 200 members of the Promenade Apartments Tenants Association decided last week to continue their battle against the new owners of the complex by picketing, rejecting concessions offered by the management and discouraging prospective purchasers.
American Invsco (pronounced Invesco), the nation's largest condominium converter, is the subject of a congressional subcommittee investigation looking into the firm's conversion tactics.
The morning after the tenants' vote, Willowick Management, an Invsco-owned company that manages the Bethesda apartments, announced it would no longer recognize the Promenade Tenants Association as the voice of the residents.
The approximately 350 members of the tenants' group want to oust Invsco and convert the Promenade into condominiums owned by the tenant association. They also plan to seek protective legislation from the County Council. Their chances of success appear slim, according to several county officials and knowledgeable observers.
The Promenade's two high-rise towers contain 1,072 units. Tenant association members say about 150 units have been sold, and many other apartments vacated.
Controversy over conversion of the complex has been spreading among tenants since it was sold last July 9. The new owners chose to convert the apartments to a cooperative, which requires buyers to purchase stock in the entire corporation, as to opposed to condominiums, which allows investors to buy individual units.
Several county officials and tenants speculate that Invsco chose the cooperative route to avoid a condo conversion law in effect last summer. That law, since overturned by the state Court of Appeals, required tenants be given 150 days to organize and present a bid on their complex if it was to be sold for condo conversion.
A 270-day moratorium on cooperative conversions retroactive to July 9 was passed by the County Council in mid-July. Invsco challenged the retroactive clause and a circuit court ruled in the company's favor. The county has appealed the decision.
A second appeal is pending in the Special Court of Appeals, stemming from a ruling in favor of Invsco in a suit filed by tenants. The suit challenges Insvco's housing cooperative status and demands that Invsco be covered retroactively by the coop moratorium.
Meanwhile, tenants recently demanded a press pass from a photographer, Alan Hopkins, who was taking pictures of their picket lines. He said he was a free-lancer hired by a local man who was doing a story on the Promenade for the Daily Telegraph in London.
After hearing of the incident from tenants, Frank Taylor, acting bureau chief for the Telegraph's Washington office, said that no reporter or photographer had been commissioned by the British newspaper for such a story.
Hopkins has since hired a lawyer and both Hopkins and his lawyer refuse to reveal who hired Hopkins.