A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge has lifted a temporary injunction that had prohibited the owner of the Blue Ridge Manor apartment complex in Wheaton from evicting tenants in 66 units.
The county Office of Consumer Affairs got the temporary injunction after apartment owner Richard Schlesinger said he was evicting tenants in order to turn their units into cooperatives. He has since marketed the units as condominiums.
Under state law, all tenants can be evicted if their apartments are converted to cooperatives, but some tenants are eligible for extended leases if their apartments are converted to condominiums, said Joe Giloley of the consumer office.
"We definitely believe their rights are being violated," said Giloley of the tenants, most of whom are Hispanic, elderly and immigrants.
However, Circuit Court Judge William Cave, who granted the temporary injunction, said after a hearing that Schlesinger had not violated the law and lifted the injunction.
Although most of the tenants in the 66 units have already moved, the county has filed suit against Schlesinger, accusing him of illegally converting to condominiums without giving tenants proper notice or their due rights. The case is scheduled to go before a judge April 25.
Schlesinger, whose Balbec Corp. is based in New York, said he is pleased with the judge's decision to lift the temporary injunction.
"We initially planned to turn the units into cooperatives but when the interest rates shifted we saw more of a demand for condominiums," he said. Schlesinger said the eviction notices, sent last fall, gave tenants six months to relocate.
"We've been as fair as possible," said Schlesinger. adding that he may convert other apartments in the 250-unit complex.
At the April 25 hearing, the county must prove Schlesinger violated the intent of the state law on condominium conversion even if he did not, as the judge ruled, violate the letter of the law. "It will be very difficult because we have the burden of proof," said Giloley.
According to the lawsuit against Schlesinger, filed by county attorney Joyce Stern, the apartment owner acted illegally because he failed to notify residents that the units were no longer being converted into a cooperative, but were being marketed as condominiums.
"Although Montgomery County provides limited protection for tenants residing in rental facilities being converted to cooperative status, extensive protections are provided for tenants in rental facilities being converted to condominium status under . . . the Montgomery code," the suit states.
Elderly or economically disadvantaged tenants who would suffer a hardship by being displaced by condominiums may be eligible for extended leases, Giloley said. He said developers are required to set aside 20 percent of the units for these tenants. However, those tenants being displaced by a conversion to a cooperative are only eligible for funds to help them find new homes.
According to the suit, the Office of Consumer Affairs asked Schlesinger in February to issue a notice of conversion to condominiums, but he did not do so.