NOWHERE IN MARYLAND have the effects of massive condominium conversion been felt as deeply as in Montgomery County -- so far. Until now, most parts of the state have been able to look on this issue in much the same way that the governments of this region might view earthquake damage, because they have yet to experience the impact. But when rashes of conversions do occur in an area -- and Baltimore City is surely next in line, followed perhaps by Baltimore and Prince George's counties -- certain tenant protections should be on the books. That is why a Maryland Senate committee has worked hard to produce a reasonable compromise bill that is set for a floor vote today or tomorrow. It balances developer and tenant interests -- and it deserves approval ad drafted.

Under the measure, counties would have the chance to buy buildings being converted to condominiums and to rent out the units for three years. If a county does not exercise its option to buy, developers would have to require that a fifth of the units in a building be rented for three years to elderly and handicapped people. In addition, the rental periods could be extended by county governments. There is also an important statewide provision for relocation assistance.

Those state senators in Annapolis who may have been inclined either to vote no, seek amendments or look away when the bill comes up should be thinking not only about the interests of the elderly and handicapped in this legislation, but of the importance of having a state law in place if or when condominium conversions do involve local government decisions. Unless these county and local governments prefer to wing it with emergency moratoriums and court challenges, they should be eager for passage of a modest procedure that sets some rules in advance. Gov. Harry Hughes and others who have followed the careful negotiations and drafting that led to this measure are supporting it. The full state Senate and the House as well should do the same.