THE DISTRICT COUNCIL had it coming. It was only a matter of time until the courts would call a halt to the council's politically expedient exercise of its "emergency legislation" powers. It was on that basis that a Superior Court judge overturned the city's law suspending condominium conversions. Sidestepping the substance of the condo issue, the court attacked the manner in which this bill and other controversial legislation have been slipped into law as "emergency" measures, which -- and here's the key -- do not require the usual consent from Congress that applies to other city legislation.

The condo moratorium -- and before it, the equally shortsighted and confusing rent controls -- are two in a questionable series of temporary laws that keep getting reenacted every time the 90-day "emergency" period expires. Some laws have gone through as many as 10 reenactments. That may be a clever way to come up with palliatives for angry tenants, but it's bad housing policy -- a band-aid response that buys time but resolves nothing.

Instead, the council should be considering legislation that would permit certain condominium conversions and would grant tax incentives if, for instance, developers agreed to reserve some units for subsidized families or to let some elderly tenants stay on without big raises in their rents. Relocation assistance, too, is an important part of this approach.

But the lesson in the condo case goes beyond housing policy to the use and abuse of local government authority. Ideally, the restrictions requiring congressional consent to council-passed laws should be lifted. It is an offense to local self-government as well as an unnecessary nuisance -- since Congress is always free to overturn local laws anyway. But until this obstacle is removed, the District council should play by the rules and face its legislative problems squarely.