Tenants of all income levels who want to stay in the District are finding themselves up against landlords who want to convert their buildings to cooperative or condominium ownership.

Faced with rent control legislation they say they can't understand, along with a tremendous demand for real estate in the city, these landlords are finding that co-ops and condos are a relatively easy - and profitable - way out.

There is a phenomenal demand in Washington for condominium units as attested this week by the sale for such conversion of the McLean Gardens complex - one of the largest concentrations of moderately priced rental housing in the city. This is a sellers' market, and many of the recent condominium projects have been oversubscribed - even before the developer was legally entitled to offer units for. There are several possible courses of action tenants can take, individually or as a group, to deal with possible eviction and conversion of their apartments.

It must be noted at the outset that tenants cannot wait until they have received their notice of conversion. It may be to late to act.

D.C. law gives a right of first refusal to the tenant of a single-family home that is being sold. If the landlord has signed a contract to sell the property, the tenant has 45 days in which to buy the property at the same price.

Similarly, the tenant in an apartment complex of four or fewer units has a right of first refusual during at least 45 days if the landlord has contracted to sell the unit or the building.

But in apartment buildings of more than four units, the rules are somewhat different.The individual tenant does not have an automatic right of first refusal. The law says that if a landlord intends to sell the building, or has entered into a contract to sell, the right of first refusal applies only if there is an organization of tenants with the legal capacity to hold real estate. This organization also must have previously indicated an interest in purchasing the apartment.

Tenants of large apartment complexes with the potential for conversion should form a tenant's organization. It need not be highly structured; each tenant should be advised that the creation of the organization in no way commits the tenants to any course of action.

The organization should take the form of a corporation - profit or non-profit. You don't necessarily need a lawyer to set one up. The District has published a free "Handbook of Forms" that is available between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Office of Corporations, Room 210, 515 D St. NW, that outlines the procedure.

There is a nominal filing fee.

You must include this language in the articles of incorporation:

"The tenants' organization shall have the legal capacity to take title to, hold and dispose of real property in the District of Columbia."

Once you have filed the articles of incorporation and elected officers, a certified letter should be mailed to the landlord and any management agent, informing them of the existence of your organization and of your interest in purchasing the apartment complex, if and when it ever goes on the market.

With this preliminary tactic, you will be ready to develop your game plan.

Next Alternative courses of action - flight or stay?