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Somerville condo conversion law could end, alarming tenants

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Small owners: It’s onerous

Brady Wahl/Flickr

A legal challenge to a Somerville law that regulates the conversion of two- and three-family homes has tenant activists concerned.

They say that a repeal of the ordinance—a unique feature in the Boston region—could make it that much more difficult for tenants to find decent apartments in Somerville, while owners of these smaller homes and their advocates say the ordinance is an onerous vestige of the state’s long-voided rent-regulation laws.

The current law allows a Somerville board to review even the smallest condo conversions in the city. It also requires owners to notify both tenants and the board one year in advance of any conversion.

Should such strictures disappear, tenant activists say, the already fast pace of condo conversions would increase, further depleting Somerville’s supply of apartments.

From the owners’ perspective, though, such conversions are often a necessary part of buying and owning property in Somerville, where prices have marched steadily upward in recent years. Many owners convert their units—and then live in one while selling the others.

The issue is a particularly major one in Somerville. As the Globe’s Katheleen Conti points out, two- and three-family homes account for 70 percent of the city’s residential properties.

Stay tuned for the outcome of the legal challenge. And for a possible counter-reaction from Somerville lawmakers.