Judge Hears Arguments About Condo Restrictions

A federal judge yesterday listened to both sides in the dispute over amendments to Cambridge's controversial ordinance limiting condominium conversion, but he took no specific action on the request of local developers for an injunction against enforcement of the new provisions.

Judge Walter E. Skinner did say, however, that he would try to reach a decision on the injunction request by the middle of next week, and, as he left the courtroom, added that under federal regulations he could "not grant a temporary restraining order" simply as a matter of convenience. "There are very strict rules on granting" the orders, he said.

City councilor David Sullivan, who drafted the controversial ordinance, said he thought the judge's comments as he left the court were an indication no restraining order or injunction would be granted, and Steven Rosenfeld, the attorney for city developers, said Skinner's final words "did not make me happy."

Since Skinner delayed granting any injunction, the amendments passed in late June by the city council officially takes effect tomorrow. They make it illegal to sell an apartment as a condominium unit without a city permit; previously, only occupying the condominium units had been judged illegal.

The amendments are designed to reduce illegal conversions, and shift the responsibility for infractions from purchasers to developers. The original law was adopted in 1979 in an attempt to slow the drain on Cambridge's rental housing stock from condo conversions. It requires that a permit be granted by the city before any rental unit is taken off the market.


Rosenfeld said the law, by restricting the sale of property for certain purposes. represents a "prohibition on sale, as well as use and enjoyment, which is something no court has ever upheld."

"We are seeking an injunction to maintain the status quo." Rosenfeld said, adding that if enactment of the amendments was temporarily enjoined, "not a single tenant will be evicted." Rosenfeld added, "the right to dispose of property is a fundamental constitutional right," and said property owners would suffer "irreparable damage" from enforcement of the amendments.

Skinner said he was "not impressed" with the argument that the ordinance represented an "unlawful taking" of land without compensation, but added he was at least somewhat saved by Rosenfeld's contention that the ordinance, by allowing tenants who lived in their apartments in 1979 when it took effect, to buy them as condos, might violate equal protection provisions of the Constitution.

Arguing against the injunction request, city lawyer Stephen Deutsch said any delay in enforcing the amendments would "seriously harm the public interest" by allowing landlords to harass tenants into buying their apartments. "The city council has determined that this would not serve the public interest," Deutsch added