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REDMOND v. BIRKEL

August 18, 1992

BERTHA REDMOND, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
RALPH A. BIRKEL, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY S. HARRIS

 BACKGROUND

 This suit originated on January 21, 1988, when plaintiffs filed a complaint against defendants Birkel and Bailey based upon defendants' alleged violation of the Rental Housing Conversion and Sale Act ("the Act" or "Rental Housing Act"), D.C. Code Ann. §§ 45-1601 et seq. (1981). The Act, established with the apparent objective of combatting increasing displacement of low to moderate income District of Columbia residents, guarantees tenants the opportunity to purchase the property on which they reside when the owner places the property on the market for sale.

 For the purpose of resolving these motions, the Court accepts the following facts alleged in plaintiffs' summary judgment motions as true. *fn3" In 1986, plaintiffs were tenants of 4301, 4305, 4309, and 4313 Halley Terrace, S.E., Washington, D.C. ("Halley Terrace Apartments"). *fn4" The Halley Terrace Apartment complex consists of four buildings containing a combined total of more than five apartment units. *fn5" On or about December 24, 1986, the Birkels sold the Halley Terrace Apartment complex to the Baileys for $ 238,000.00. Plaintiffs (or other tenants) were given no notice of the Birkels' intent to sell the Halley Terrace Apartments to the Baileys. The Baileys have maintained the apartments as rental units.

 Plaintiffs argue that they are entitled to summary judgment as to liability because they were never notified that their buildings were offered for sale, and, therefore, never had the opportunity to exercise their statutory right to purchase their building.

 DISCUSSION

 Defendants raise several potentially dispositive issues in their opposition to plaintiffs' motions for summary judgment. These issues would have been raised more properly in a cross-motion, however, the Court resolves them here.

 Applicability of the Rental Housing Act

 Defendants contend that the Rental Housing Act does not apply to the sale at issue because the sale was not for purposes of demolition or discontinuance of housing use. Section 45-1631(a) of the Code states:

 Before an owner of a housing accommodation may sell the accommodation, or issue a notice of intent to recover possession, or notice to vacate, for purposes of demolition or discontinuance of housing use, the owner shall give the tenant an opportunity to purchase the accommodation at a price and terms which represent a bona fide offer of sale.

 This section is somewhat ambiguous. On first blush, it appears that defendants may be correct because the phrase "for purposes of demolition or discontinuance of housing use" appears to modify every phrase preceding it. If that were the case, the statute would apply only to sales for purposes of demolition or discontinuance of housing use, notices of intent to recover possession for purposes of demolition or discontinuance of housing use, and notices to vacate for purposes of demolition or discontinuance of housing use. However, an analysis of the Rental Housing Act of 1977, D.C. Code Ann. § 45-1681 et seq. (Supp. 1980), which was amended by the current Act, indicates that the legislature intended the notice and opportunity to purchase language to apply to all sales of rental property. *fn6"

 Similarly, two earlier versions of the current Act indicate that the notice and opportunity to purchase requirement was to apply to all sales. D.C. Council, Comm. on Housing and Economic Development, Rental Housing Conversion and Sale Act of 1980, Bill 3-222, § 402 (Comm. Print May 13, 1980); D.C. Council 3-222, § 402 (Nov. 13, 1979). *fn7" There is nothing to suggest that the legislature intentionally changed the applicability of the statute. Rather, it appears that the D.C. Council reorganized the phrases of the provisions without intending to change their meaning. Therefore, the Court concludes that the Act applies to ...


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