Gov. Dukakis To Enact First State Condo Conversion Law

After six months of tense negotiation with organized tenants and state realtors. Gov. Michael S. Dukakis Wednesday will sign into law a bill which will set state-wide constraints on condominium conversion.

The bill forces landlords who want to convert their rental apartments to condominiums to give tenants advance notice of the plan, as well as monetary "relocation benefits."

"This is one of the strongest pieces of legislation protecting tenants in the country." John R. Ball, communications director for the governor's Office of Communities and Development (OCD), said yesterday, adding that only New Jersey and California currently have conversion laws.

But the law will provide only general guidelines for policy within the Commonwealth. Cities and towns will be able to establish additional provisions, as long as they do not deviate from the basic outline. Rosalyn Jordon, legislative spokesman for OCD, explained yesterday.

"We don't want the most stringent law to be the statewide standard," Jordon said, adding, however, that municipalities can enact stronger restrictions, such as limiting or even banning condo conversion altogether.

The bill requires landlords to give tenants notice at least one year before eviction, or up to four ears early for elderly, disabled or low-income tenants. Also, all tenants will receive between $750 and $1,000 as compensation for relocation.

In addition, cities such as Cambridge, which already have condo conversion laws on the books, are exempt from the new law. Cambridge's law restricts condominiums by requiring permission from the rent control board if a rent-controlled apartment is removed from the market.

"This bill doesn't get to the heart of the matter," said Roger Mervis, director of the Cambridge Rent Control Agency. Mervis explained that the basic difference between Cambridge's ordinances and the state's is that Cambridge restricts the conversion of rent control units to condominiums while the state law "simply limits the hardship of current tenants"

"I think it was a political compromise between the interests of property owners and the interests of the tenants," Mervis added.