Attaining condo conversion zoning and other necessary permissions from a city or town should really test whether the change from rental housing to condominium ownership is in the public interest.
Sometimes city councils think that home ownership and a higher property tax base are so important that they overlook the by-products of the conversion, which may include displacing long-term residents and creating a product that might be not age well as a condominium.
We're writing about condo conversion zoning because we kept receiving questions about what a city council can do about conversions. Our visitors seemed to think that zoning would solve the problem.
However, often the zoning ordinance is fairly silent about condo conversion zoning. In fact, condominium conversion is more appropriately viewed as a sub-set of the process of subdividing land.
Instead of subdividing each part of one parcel of land into a lot for sale, a developer is subdividing the airspace into different ownerships, and sometimes allocating patios and yards to particular units. However, the land is held in common, and usually the building or buildings have common spaces also.
So in our opinion, you should govern condo conversions under the subdivision regulation rather than the zoning ordinance.
But we'll just be optimistic and assume that you've combined all your ordinances related to real estate development into one development code. That's a sometimes tedious, but really worthwhile process.
Regardless of whether these rules are contained in the zoning, subdivision, or development codes, or whether the city enacts a stand-alone ordinance, these matters should be addressed:
• Review to ensure that the resulting condominiums will meet current zoning standards in all respects. If this is not possible, due to the building design and a reasonable allocation of space within the condo framework, the applicant should be required to apply for a zoning variance. Further, the variance should not be granted unless the standards in the zoning ordinance are met.
• Assurance that each separate unit will meet existing building, fire, property maintenance, and other codes after the conversion. Site plan review should be required, but you may also require building review. If you want to be extra tough and discourage condominium conversion as a matter of public policy, you can require that these codes be met before the conversion is made also.
• Provision for review of the CC&Rs, which govern everything from land and building use to aesthetics, either by the city attorney and/or a private attorney. This review should be quite aggressive in assuring that the assignment of property rights is clear.
• Guarantee of adequate parking.
• Provision preserving the public interest in the maintenance of common amenities. If common areas are not maintained at some point in the future because residents don't want to increase their homeowners association fees, we think that the city government should have the right to place liens or assessments on the property, as allowed by state law, in order that the city can perform the necessary maintenance and have a method of collecting that money eventually.
• Addressing sign regulation, if the condo conversion zoning pertains to industrial or commercial land uses.
• Provisions for allowing existing tenants a "first right of refusal" on the purchase of the unit they are currently occupying.
This means that before the unit is offered for sale to anyone else, the tenant must be given notice of the conversion and a reasonable time period to purchase the unit he or she is now occupying. If they "refuse" to purchase, then the unit can be offered for sale to others. Be aware that many states now regulate this aspect of condo conversion.
• If desired, other matters regulated might include provision for a public hearing, requirements for upgraded soundproofing, and proof of financial capability to carry out the project.
Another option for some cities is an inclusionary zoning provision requiring that low-income, elderly, or disabled residents be able to stay in place permanently or for a designated number of years. Sometimes a particular number of units are set aside for low-income or moderate-income residents.
We're assuming that state law will provide for adequate fire protection, which is commonly much more strict for condos than for apartments, but if there are no applicable state or local laws otherwise, that area should be covered as well.
Some states also regulate condominium creation in general, so keep that in mind.
Growth and Development: