State Judges Hear Argument In Condo Case

The State Supreme Judicial Court heard oral argument yesterday morning in a case that will decide the fate of Cambridge's controversial ordinance limiting condominium conversion in the city.

A decision in the case could come any time in the next four months. Only four of the court's seven justices heard the case; the three other judges, including Herbert Wilkins, chairman of the Board of Overseers institutional relations subcommittee, excused themselves because of conflicts of interest.

An attorney for local real estate developers attacked the ordinance, which requires developers wishing to convert rental apartments to obtain a permit from Cambridge's Rent Control Board, on three basic grounds.

He charged that the City Council did not have the authority to adopt the regulation under either state law or the city's own rent control act, that the condominium limitations were inconsistent with certain provisions of the rent control act, and that the limitations represented an unconstitutional taking of property by the city.

Hans Loeser, the attorney hired by the city to defend the ordinance, contended that the state legislature had granted local communities power enough to pass the law.

In addition, Loeser argued that the statute only regulated property and did not unconstitutionally confiscate it.

"The first two issues, the issues of state law, are the substantial ones. I would be very surprised if we lost on the question of constitutionality," city councilor David Sullivan, who wrote the ordinance, said yesterday.

Sullivan predicted that the case would likely take the maximum four months to decide because of its complexity. "And that's 120 more days of protection for Cambridge tenants, at the very least," he said.

The law has slowed condominium development in the city significantly since its adoption. A conversion permit was recently granted under the ordinance to Harvard for apartments on 7 Sumner Rd., which the University wished to convert to office space