Owner of apartments backs off of warnings to tenants

Some were told to move

letter hinted at evictions


February 18, 2005|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

An Annapolis-based company confirmed this week that it plans to convert the Spa Cove Apartments to condominiums, but it has backed away from notices it sent to some tenants telling them to clear out in 30 days so that renovations could begin.

A spokesman for Triton Property group, which bought Spa Cove in December, said yesterday that the company never intended to scare off 48 residents when it sent them letters last month telling them to relocate and threatening to remove washing machines and trash bins. The notices were first reported by The Sun on Friday.

The Triton spokesman, Brian McCormick, said yesterday that the company is offering tenants of the Annapolis apartments the option of moving to a different apartment in the 303-unit complex or remaining in the same unit but enduring the dust and noise that will be produced by the planned renovation.

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

Some residents said yesterday that they were pleased by Triton's changed message, but they said it doesn't excuse the tone of the earlier letters, which they said drove some families away.

"They've apparently backed off, and that's commendable," said Teresa Chapman, one of the residents who was asked to move. "But the bottom line is that a lot of people have already moved ... and a lot of people have had to go through something they shouldn't have had to go through."

McCormick said his company plans to convert the apartments to condominiums and will, as state law requires, offer tenants the first option to buy their units. Tenants who have agreed to move because of renovations will be given the option to buy their original units or the units they have moved to, McCormick said.

According to state law, tenants must be given six months notice before their apartments are converted to condominiums.

McCormick said Triton sent a letter to tenants this week clarifying the situation.

"We sincerely regret if our January 4 letter to a small group of residents was unclear as to our intention to convert the Spa Cove property to condominium units," McCormick wrote.

Some tenants said they felt strong-armed by the initial letters, which did not say they could remain in their apartments during renovations. Some letters said residents' washing machines and trash bins would be removed by the end of this month. At least one letter, in English and Spanish, spoke of an inspection that could lead to eviction.

Legal experts said Triton had no right to terminate long-term leases to clear space for renovations. But some tenants said that when they approached apartment managers, they were told they had to move.

A number of families apparently moved out after receiving the notices, residents said. McCormick said Triton terminated one lease because the resident did not meet housekeeping requirements.

Triton purchased the 40-year-old apartments for $36 million in December.

The apartments range from one to four bedrooms and rent for $900 to $1,600. The complex, on 21 acres between Truxtun Park and a townhouse development, 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.

McCormick said Triton has not filed the state application necessary to convert from apartments to condominiums but plans to do so next month.

He said the company is working on designs for the project and hopes to offer some of the most affordable upscale housing in Annapolis, with prices starting at about $200,000.

McCormick said his company will meet with tenants to explain its plans for the complex once the plans are complete.

He said he expects renovations to begin this summer. Triton would need extensive city permits to proceed.

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