The condominium conversion of the Cairo, the District'stallest privately-owned building, is well under way, with three-quarters of the property's 169 units already sold, the new owners reports.

In addition, Michael rubin, president of the Middle States Knowlton Development Corp., the owner, said his firm will break ground in about two weeks for the construction of 30 town houses in the parking lot adjacent to the Cairo at 1615 Q St. NW. Those town houses are expected to be finished in about a year, he said.

Middle States bought the 156-foot-high Cairo from the Inland Steel Development Corp. on July 10 for $5.8 million. The condominiums are selling from the high $30,000's to $120,000, Rubin said. The Cairo has 44 efficiences, 66 one-bedroom units, 44 two-bed-rooms apartments, eight two-bedroom duplexes and seven two-bedroom garden units.

Current Cairo tenants are getting discounts of about 20 percent, Rubin said. In addition, he said, the tenants' association asked that 10 apartments be reserved as rentals for "hardship cases," and the company is doing so.

The Cairo was built as a hotel in 1894 by architect Thomas Franklin Schneider. it was the city's first steel-framed skyscraper. Its height so offended Dupont Circle residents, however, that they sucessfully campaigned for enactment of zoning rules limiting future buildings to a height of 130 feet.

The building began to deteriorate after World War Ii and was closed in 1972. Inland Steel purchased it, renovated it, and reopened it as a rental apartment building in 1976.

Kevin McCoy, manager of finance for the Inland Development Corp., said his firm decided to sell the Cairo ecause "D.C. rent control laws make it difficult for rental apartment buildings to exist." He said Inland didn't want to convert the building itself and decided to sell instead. "We didn't want to get involved in conversion real estate," McCoy added. "We weren't equipped to do that."

It was reported last February that Inland planned to sell the property to Holland and Lyons Associates in May. Spokesmen for both companies said that deal was never completed, however.

The tenants at the Cairo considered buying the building themselves at one point. Ted Clark, president of the tenants' association said the group found at least two banks willing to loan them the money as long as a guarantor -- or an established developer who would work with the association in converting the Cairo -- signed with the tenants.

Clark said tenants ended up going along with the sale to Middle States, who had offered 20 percent discounts on condominium units to persons already renting in the building. Clark said they found that if they bought the building along with a guarantor interested in profit, they would have paid only 5 percent or 10 percent less for their condominiums than the price Middle states was asking. Tenants "overwhelmingly' voted to go along with Middle States, Clark said.

Clark added that half the tenants in the building indicated a serious interest in buying their apartments. CAPTION: Picture, Condominium apartments at the Cairo are priced from the $30,000s to $120,000. By Douglas Chevalier -- The Washington Post.