Questions raised about plan to move residents of Annapolis apartments

Owner of complex sends orders on short notice

February 13, 2005|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

A Delaware company's plans to renovate an Annapolis apartment complex have raised questions about a landlord's power to shift tenants to different apartments on short notice.

The company, Triton Property Group, purchased the 40-year-old Spa Cove Apartments for $36 million in December after telling city officials it planned to convert the complex to condominiums, according to city and state records.

Last month, the company sent notices asking tenants of 53 apartments to relocate. The company also sent notices, translated into Spanish, telling some tenants they would face inspections that could lead to eviction. A number of families apparently moved out after receiving the notices, residents said.

Though a landlord such as Triton has power to evict tenants, it cannot arbitrarily ask those on long-term leases to move because of renovations, legal experts said.

"A lot of times, they can reach some sort of mutual agreement, but the landlord has no power to force it," said Stephanie Cornish, senior counselor for Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit group that advises tenants.

Some tenants said they believe they are being froced out so Triton can convert the units, many with water views, to high-priced condominiums. If Triton applies to convert the complex to condominiums, it must give tenants six months' notice that they must leave and give them first right to buy their units, experts said.

Jim Edwards, president of the Annapolis company that manages the complex, said Thursday that the building owner had not decided whether to convert the units to condominiums or leave them as apartments. He said the relocation notices were sent to prevent residents from being inconvenienced by the dirt and noise of renovations.

Triton officials could not be reached for comment late Friday.

A landlord can only ask, not order, residents holding long-term leases to move, Cornish said.

With 30 days' notice, a landlord can evict a tenant living on a month-to-month lease for any reason, she said. But the tenant can appeal the eviction in court.

A tenant living on a one-year lease can be evicted only for breaking a clause in the lease, Cornish said. The tenant also has the right to a court appeal in those cases.

Once a tenant's lease expires, the landlord has no obligation to renew.

Most of the notices distributed to Spa Cove residents did not note lease violations. Some notices offered residents other apartments in the complex and, in some cases, $500 for moving expenses. But other notices said residents' washing machines and trash containers would be removed by the end of this month.

Those notices caught the attention of city officials.

Annapolis planning director Jon Arason said he is not sure that the city can play a direct role in mediating tenant-landlord disputes. But he said the city has referred several tenants to the Legal Aid Bureau.

"We have an obligation to make sure they're treated decently," he said.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer was in Wisconsin for a conference last week and said she had not reviewed the particulars of the Spa Cove situation. She concurred that the city would have little say in tenant-landlord disputes but said she understands tenants' feelings of unease at being asked to move.

"I'd feel a lot better knowing they're at least offering another place to go," she added.

City officials said they are operating under the assumption that Triton will convert the 303 apartment units to condominiums. But Arason confirmed that the company has not applied for the conversion, which would require the company to meet stricter building codes.

The apartments range from one to four bedrooms, with rents between $900 and $1,600. The complex is on 21 acres between Truxtun Park and a townhouse development, and includes apartments with views of Spa Creek and the State House dome. The city has a law requiring that 12 percent of units be affordable to low- and moderate-income residents.

Triton bought the building Dec. 20 from UBS Brinson Realty Investors LLC.

Sun staff writer Phillip McGowan contributed to this article.

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