Q: A lot has been said and written about the rights of tenants to buy their own building, and their own unit in a building that is going condominium. What about those of us who just cannot afford to purchase - even at the supposedly low "discount" price offered to tenants?
I am scared. I have been living in an apartment building here in the District for many years, and now it is going condominium. When will I be evicted, and what rights do I have?
A: Here lies the tragedy of condominium conversions. There are many people who, like you, either cannot afford to buy a condominium or a cooperative unit, or just do not want to do so. Yet, under current condominium and cooperative laws, very little protection is given, even in cases of extreme hardship. Generally speaking, these hardship cases are handled on a case-by-case basis, and the tenant is forced to rely on the judgment of the developer, who was not even the original landlord.
As with everything else surrounding District of Columbia law, there is a lot of uncertainty among lawyers and legislators as to the exact meaning of the D.C. Condominium Act regarding evictions.
Specifically, each tenant in a rental building has two basic rights of first refusal.
The first right goes to the tenant association, if one exists. If the landlord has entered into a contract to sell the building to a third party, the tenant organization has the right for a period of 90 days from notice to purchase the entire complex at terms mutually agreed upon, but similar to the other contract for the purchase of that building. If there is no existing tenant organization at the time of the 90-day notice, the tenant have an additional 30 days in which to organize themselves.
Above and beyond the collective right to buy the entire building, each tenant the right to purchase his or her own unit. The law specifically states that each tenant must be given at least 120 days notice of the conversion before being served with a notice to vacate.
During that 120 days, the tenants have a 6o-day exlusive right to contract for the purchase of their individual apartments.
When can the notice be issued? Here is where the lawyers differ. There are many landlords (and condominium developers) who take the position that the notice to vacate can be sent at any time, providing the 120-day requirement is met.
Tenants' lawyers take the position that at least until the original 90-day right to purchase the entire building has expired, no notice to vacate can be given. Additionally, it is argued, if a tenant has the right to purchase an individual unit before the tenant can be asked to leave, he or she should first be given the public offering statement.
The statement discusses in great detail the terms of the conversion, the structural condition of the building, the projected improvements (if any) and the financing package available. These and other points are included to help a potential purchaser decide whether to buy the condominium unit. And the statement cannot be distributed to anyone until it is approved by the District government.
Unfortunately, there is no certainty on either the landlords' or lawyers' positions. The courts have not interpreted the condominium law, and thus landlords and tenants are left with the uncertainty of when a tenant can be evicted.
Unfortunately, too many landlords have been looking at what they consider the strict letter of the law - and have not taken into consideration the human factor.
But, as long as you have not yet received a notice to vacate, you can rest assured that you have at least 120 days before you will be asked to leave the apartment.