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Somerville Tightens the Leash on Condo Conversion Laws

Somerville Tightens the Leash on Condo Conversion Laws

Somerville’s Condominium Review Board will now be enforcing a law requiring a year’s notice to tenants before converting property to condos. Attorneys and developers say this will delay their ability to develop and puts too much responsibility on them to make sure tenants aren’t being ousted by property owners eager to sell, with one prominent attorney telling the board the local law could violate state law.

To convert a building to condominiums and remove rental units from the market, a property owner has to submit an application to the Condo Review Board. City law requires applicants to submit a master deed – the document outlining condo rules and property breakdowns -- that has been filed with the state registry of deeds to the board. But before the owner submits the master deed to the review board, city law requires him to give a year’s notice to tenants in the building, or two years notice for tenants who are elderly or disabled.

City housing director Michael Feloney said the board would “refine” its practices after a neighbor of a proposed condo conversion complained that the required year notice was never given.

At the board’s April meeting, assistant city solicitor David Shapiro said the existing law was “defendable” and needed to be enforced. Applicants who have previously been approved will be grandfathered in, but pending applicants will have to send notice to all tenants or previous tenants over the past year for their consent, or make a good faith effort to find previous tenants. And all applicants after April will be required to provide a year’s notice before board approval.

Attorney Richard DiGirolamo protested the law, saying it violated provisions barring rent control and overly regulated a form of property ownership. DiGirolamo frequently represents people looking to convert condos and owns property in Somerville. “A condominium is nothing more than a form of ownership, I can choose to own a condo, a three-family house or a 12-unit building and there’s nothing Somerville can do about it,” DiGirolamo told the board. “This is not the path you want to go down, it violates every law on the books.”

And Digirolamo and other attorneys at the meeting pushed back specifically on providing a year’s notice for converting vacant buildings. Bob said the board will require applicants attempting to convert a vacant property to give notice for a year while making a “good faith” effort to find the previous tenants to see if they had been improperly evicted. If the tenants can’t be found, applicants would sign an affidavit saying so.

Charlestown real estate attorney Tony Troiano said the requirement was an “undue burden” for people buying property they intend to convert to condos, and most sellers would likely refuse to pass on tenant information. Bob said asking a seller would constitute that good faith effort even if the query was met with refusal.

With tenants coming forward saying they have been offered money by a person buying her building to leave in order for the building to be vacant for condos Niedergang said he thought the stricter enforcement of the law was reasonable, and did not think it violated any rent control provisions. But there would be a difficult period of transition because of the lack of enforcement in the past, he said.

But the city needs to do a better job of enforcing development regulations in general, he said. While people following condo review procedure now have more regulations to contend with, people violating the laws will still continue to violate them.

Niedergang said he was open to changing the requirement of a year’s notice for converting vacant properties, but that should come with a complete overhaul of condo law. Officials created a task force to examine revising the law in 2007 but no changes were made.

“If one year is too much, let’s discuss it and change it,” Niedergang told the Journal. “Let’s hear what developers and attorneys have to say rather than just enforcing something that’s 30 years old. That to me is the only real solution, otherwise we’ll just be struggling indefinitely.”

What are your thoughts on the new enforcement?

Somerville tightens enforcement of condo conversions (WickedLocal)


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