Apartment complex residents displaced ahead of renovations

New owner may have plans for condominiums

Annapolis

February 11, 2005|By Phillip McGowan and Andrea F. Siegel | Phillip McGowan and Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The new owner of an Annapolis apartment complex has begun displacing residents as a prelude to a multimillion-dollar renovation and possible conversion to condominiums.

Case Edwards Management, which recently took over managing the 303-unit Spa Cove Apartments, requested last month that some residents relocate within 30 days, as it prepares to renovate 53 apartments in five buildings.

The notices - written in English and Spanish -started going out early last month. Some threatened residents with eviction because the notices said they could be violating community standards, such as housekeeping.

Other notices offered residents another apartment in the complex, or up to $500 in moving expenses if they relocated elsewhere. Some residents were informed that their laundry machines and trash containers would be removed by the end of the month.

"I have no plans to move. There is no basis in law for their request," said Kennie Riffey, whose lease expires July 1 but who has been asked to move.

"This is about someone saying, `You are a huge inconvenience to me. Leave,'" she said.

She said the approach of moving tenants could allow the owners to skirt condominium conversion laws aimed at protecting tenants. She added that unanswered questions have left people frightened and some tenants feel bullied.

Two residents charged that the management company moves prompted an exodus of Latino families from the aging apartment complex.

This is "undermarket property because it's so close to the water," said Diana Bradley, whose family has been asked to relocate by the end of the month. "They just want upscale white people, if you read between the lines."

Jim Edwards, president of Case Edwards in Annapolis, said his representatives are trying to be fair about the process, even as the company goes forward with the redevelopment. In trying to reach out to all its tenants, the company hired an apartment manager who speaks Spanish. However, he expressed concern about the tone of some notices.

No determination has been made about whether to convert the apartments to condominiums, Edwards said.

"We are a local management company," he said. "Our intention is not to harass or intimidate our residents. We hope we aren't doing that."

City officials said they have been meeting with the owner.

Discussions have focused heavily on what improvements probably will be needed to bring the 40-year-old apartments - where a fire this week left four units uninhabitable - in line with current building codes and the permitting process, but have included tenants' concerns.

The apartments range from one to four bedrooms. The complex is on 21 acres between Truxtun Park and a new townhouse development, and includes apartments with views of Spa Creek and State House dome. The city has a law requiring that 12 percent of units be affordable to low- and moderate-income residents.

Current sale information was not available in state records. But the records indicate that its selling price in 1999 was nearly $20 million. Housing prices have skyrocketed since.

Edwards said the rehabilitation of the complex would cost $9 million to $12 million. He said the inconvenience created by the work - including construction of a 3,500-square-foot clubhouse and a guardhouse, as well as extensive landscaping - is what prompted Case Edwards' quick action to relocate residents.

"We want to make sure these residents aren't forced to walk around in a lot dust and banging - because it will be a seven-day-a-week operation," he said.

But some residents are skeptical of the company's motives, referring to the notices.

"No warnings shall be issued if your apartment is in violation," one notice said. "You will be given notice to move. We hope you understand that we have to resolve this situation."

Edwards said improvements at the complex are sorely needed. He said that when his company took over the apartments in late December, many buildings were roach-infested. The apartment inspections are aimed at "trying to maintain the asset and do a good job for everyone," he said.

Residents said they have not been told definitively that the complex is headed for conversion to condominiums.

Jon Arason, the city's chief of planning and zoning, said that although condominium conversion documents have not been filed with the state, the owner has given the city the obligatory right of first refusal to buy the complex.

The city declined.

"This is the first big rental conversion in the city since I've been here. I've been here since 1987," Arason said.

He added, "We are not going to let this kind of thing happen badly."

Arason said city and state officials have been contacted by concerned tenants. He directed them to the Legal Aid Bureau and state agencies that deal with condominium conversion and housing.

"This is something everyone will be on top of," Arason said.

He said he understands that some tenants feel especially vulnerable.

"Nobody wants to see anyone jerked around by this, and that is not assuming they will be," he said.

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