As many as 1,000 Takoma Park residents are facing eviction from their apartments next spring under a decade-old Montgomery County law requiring landlords to eliminate multiple rental units from partitioned single-family residences.

Montgomery County officials said they do not intend to change the 1978 county law that gave owners of houses that were illegally converted into multifamily dwellings 10 years to phase out apartments and restore the properties as single-family residences.

Richard Ferrara, Montgomery County's housing director, said tenants in at least 270 units in 90 converted single-family houses, some of which have as many as eight units in violation of the county's zoning ordinance, will have to move when the grace period ends March 23.

Under the law, part of the county's zoning ordinance, landlords had 10 years to phase out the apartments or to apply for an exception for no more than one accessory apartment in an owner-occupied house. Houses converted into apartment buildings before 1928, when the county adopted a zoning ordinance for the southern half of the county that prohibited multifamily use of single-family dwellings, are exempt from the law.

The law, the outgrowth of a lawsuit filed by Takoma Park homeowners to force the county to crack down on multifamily homes because of parking problems they were creating, also exempts buildings whose owners can prove they were built as multifamily residences before 1954, the date the county council set as the cutoff for houses eligible for the 10-year grace period. Those converted afterward were supposed to shut down in 1978.

While some of the 160 buildings registered for the extension were closed down, a majority of the landlords have continued renting the apartments, much to the surprise of Montgomery County and Takoma Park housing officials, who said they do not know specifically which multifamily houses remain or how many tenants will be affected.

Housing officials in both jurisdictions have just begun studying ways to deal with the residents who will be displaced, many of whom are living in units that rent for as little as $140 a month and cannot afford to live in other areas of the county where rents are much higher.

Currently, the county has a list of 5,000 people waiting for affordable housing, according to Joyce Siegel, a spokeswoman for Montgomery's Housing Opportunities Commission. She said that "it would be unfair" to give displaced Takoma Park tenants priority on the waiting list above people "who applied several years ago."

Ferrara said the county has not yet notified tenants of the March deadline. Takoma Park Mayor Stephen DelGiudice blamed the county for not making sure landlords were phasing out the apartments, and said the city has only just begun holding hearings to warn tenants about the problem.

Officials from both jurisdictions said they are counting on the county council to change the law to avoid mass evictions. But at the moment that seems unlikely.

"We made a decision 10 years ago and we should carry through," said Montgomery County Council member Neal Potter, one of four members of the seven-person council who have indicated that they want to see the law enforced.

Council member Rose Crenca said landlords "have known about the law for 10 years. That's long enough for them to have gotten their houses in order." In the absence of any new county action, John Menke, director of the county's environmental protection department, which is responsible for enforcing the county's zoning ordinance, said, "We will go ahead and carry out the law."

County Council President Michael Subin said he "at most would consider a short-term extension" of the law's effective date. "But I still want the multifamily-unit houses phased out," he said.

The council's firmness is discouraging news for tenants and landlords, who only recently started to organize to try to reverse the law.

Nancy Nickell is an 11-year Takoma Park tenant who earns $14,000 working for a nonprofit organization. Nickell, who is trying to form a tenants' organization to fight the evictions, said most tenants live in the apartments because they can't afford units in regular apartment complexes. She called the phase-out a "kick-out, because if it was a phase out, the county and the city would be providing relocation assistance and putting people at the top of the HOC's waiting list. And they would have notified tenants before that the March deadline was approaching.

"The situation started out as homeowners versus renters and now it has turned into a real human rights issue. The law is nothing less than genuine bigotry against low-income renters," she said.

Shirley Jones, who owns one of the homes used as an apartment house, said landlords have held off converting multifamily buildings back into single-family houses because "I thought county officials would have heart enough for owners and tenants to pass other legislation. Ten years wasn't long enough. People still need apartments now more than ever."

Jones said that if the March deadline is enforced, she will have to evict her tenants and close down her building because she cannot afford to restore it as a single-family residence.

"Besides, the rent {on a single-family residence} wouldn't pay back the {restoration} costs in over a 100 years," she said.