Four Maryland developments named in a story on condominium conversions in last week's Real Estate Section will be able to convert to condominium status without adhering to all of the restrictions and protections under a new Maryland law. Thomas Choice was exempted from the new conversion law under one of a variety of tests in the law; Mills Choice, Walkers Choice and North Park met a less stringent test and must adhere to some of the new law's requirements but is exempted from others, persons involved with the projects said.
The tenants and the developer at the Timberneck-Treover apartment complex in Columbia are in the middle of a two-week tug-of-war, and the outcome will determine whether the developer will be able to proceed immediately with plans to convert the 438 garden apartments to condominiums.
At stake for the tenants and new buyers at Timberneck-Treover are increased protections under Maryland's new condominium conversion law. That law, passed last year, does not apply to conversions where at least 10 percent of the units have been sold by May 15.
Jay L. Lenrow, Maryland assistant attorney general, said the state has no exact count of how many converters throughout the state may be in this situation, because the developers have until June 15 to file affidavits showing that they have fulfilled the requirements of the deadline and can convert without being affected by the new law.
Lenrow said there seem to be several in Baltimore and in Prince George's and Howard counties, however, because he has received a number of calls from tenants in those areas.
The developer at Timberneck-Treover, a joint venture of Costain Maryland Inc. and Fidelity Savings and Loan Association, believes it can get the 44 sales it needs to reach the 10 percent mark by the end of this weekend, said Joseph Link, vice president of marketing. About 25 tenants have bought, he said.
But a group of tenants is trying to prevent the developer from achieving its 10 percent in sales. They have set up tables in front of the sales office to offer potential buyers information on the project and to point out flaws in the conversion plan as they see it.
"The developer is desparately trying to sell before May 15 so they don't have to offer the warranties" required under the new law, said tenant David Minnis.
Minnis, who has a master's degree in engineering from Johns Hopkins University, has analyzed the developer's public offering statement and says it appears that condominium fees averaging $108 a month are too low to provide enough reserves for repairs that will have to be made.
"Condo fees may be underestimated by as much as 30 percent," Minnis said.
Most appliances have exceeded their useful lives, the heating and air conditioning systems have only three to six years left, and eventual replacement of the roofs and hot water heaters are not properly provided for, Minnis said. The budgeted amount for lawn mowing and snow removal are about half what the tenants have received in estimates from local companies that do that kind of work, he added.
"There just aren't the general reserve funds to keep the property up to snuff in the future," Minnis said.
Costain Maryland's Link said, however, that there has been no "low-balling" of the condominium fees and that a reputable accountant put together the budget using service contracts now in effect in the area as the basis of cost estimates.
Link says the developer is providing a warranty on the heating and cooling system but conceded that the new Maryland law requires more warranties, such as on the roof, that the developer will not provide if it gets its 10 percent sales by May 15.
The tenants also would get $750 in relocation fees under the Maryland law, as opposed to the $500 the developer is offering now, and 20 percent of the units would have to be set aside for the elderly and handicapped. In addition, there are more stringent disclosure requirements under the new law on the condition of different elements of the buildings, on the budget and on reserves.
But Link said the most significant impact on the conversion if it came under the new law would be in delay and the costs this would add to the price of the units. If the project must comply with the new requirements, it would take at least another six months before sales could start again, he said.
The added cost of that delay, and of increased warranties and tenant assistance, would have to be passed on to the new buyers of the units, he said. "It wouldn't pay from a consumer standpoint," Link argued.
The units are being sold from $37,000 to about $50,000, and tenants were offered between $1,000 and $3,000 off, Minnis said.
"I feel badly that tenants are concerned and stirred up. We have tried to address their concerns," Link said. "I see it as an opportunity for affordable housing, but the tenants don't agree," he added.
When Maryland passed its new conversion law last year, it included a provision enabling building owners to circumvent the law merely by filing a conversion notice by July 1 of last year. This led to a flood of these notices, a number of which the state suspected of being issued merely to get around the new law if the owner decided to convert sometime in the future rather than because the owner actually had plans to convert soon.
So a new set of "grandfathering" rules were established. One enabled a new owner of a building to convert under the old law if 35 percent of the units were sold by March 15. If the current owner was doing the converting, he had until May 15 and only had to get sales contracts on 10 percent.
Joe Giloley, a condominium expert with the Montgomery County office of consumer affairs, said he does not know of any developers trying to beat the 10 percent rule now but that several in the county had needed to comply with the March deadline to get their 35 percent. Of those who tried, generally the largely ones succeeded and the smaller ones did not, Giloley said.
It will not be official until they have filed their affadavits with the state, but the county believes that projects that succeeded in getting their 35 percent were the Willoughby, Whitehall and University Towers. Those that apparently did not make it were Walkers Choice, Thomas Choice, Mills Choice, Alpine Hamlet and North Park, Giloley said.
In Montgomery County, projects that come under Maryland's new law also are subject to another, even stricter, county law that requires more disclosures on the properties and adequate reserves.
Those that did not meet the deadline probably will not convert for some time because of the new requirements, and all would have to wait at least another six months because they would have to start the tenant notification process over again, he said.