Lawsuits go after SF landlords doing illegal short-term apartment rentals

Airbnb was flagrantly defying city laws and taxes when we wrote "Into Thin Air" in August, but the crackdown has begun

The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office today filed a pair of lawsuits against local landlords who illegally rent out apartments on a short-term basis, units that had been cleared of tenants using the Ellis Act. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Tenants Unions has hired attorney Joseph Tobener to file more such lawsuits, and he is preparing to file at least seven lawsuits involving 20 units.

The lawsuits are the latest actions in a fast-moving crackdown on Airbnb and other online companies that facilitate short-term apartment rentals that violate city laws against converting apartments into de facto hotel rooms, including and

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu recently introduced legalization that would legalize, limit, and regulate such rentals, a measure that will be considered this summer. That legislation comes on the heels of Airbnb’s decision to stop stonewalling the city (and us at the Guardian, which has been raising these issues for the last two years) by agreeing to start paying the transient occupancy taxes it owes to the city for its transactions and creating new terms of service that acknowledge its business model may violate local laws in San Francisco and elsewhere.

As we’ve reported, City Attorney Dennis Herrera has been working with tenant groups and others on a legal action aimed at curtailing the growing practice of landlords using online rental services to skirt rent control laws and othet tenant protection, removing units from the permanent housing market while still renting them out at a profit.   

“In the midst of a housing crisis of historic proportions, illegal short-term rental conversions of our scarce residential housing stock risks becoming a major contributing factor,” Herrera said in a public statement. “The cases I’ve filed today target two egregious offenders. These defendants didn’t just flout state and local law to conduct their illegal businesses, they evicted disabled tenants in order to do so. Today’s cases are the first among several housing-related matters under investigation by my office, and we intend to crack down hard on unlawful conduct that’s exacerbating—and in many cases profiting from—San Francisco’s alarming lack of affordable housing.”

The lawsuits allege violations of the city’s Planning and Administrative codes, as well as the state’s Unfair Competition Law, targetting 3073-3075 Clay Street, owned by defendants Darren and Valerie Lee; and 734 and 790 Bay Street, which is owned or managed by defendants Lev, Tamara and Tatyana Yurovsky (founder of SRT Consultants).

Guardian calls to both parties were not immediately returned, but we’ll update this post if and when we hear back. Tobener tells the Guardian that the San Francisco Tenants Union hired him to discourage local landlords from removing units from the market.

“The San Francisco Tenants Union is just fed up with the loss of affordable housing,” Tobener told us. “It’s not about the money, it’s about getting these units back on the market.”

The San Francisco Apartment Conversion Ordinance prescribes penalties of $1,000 per day for units rented out for less than 30 days. That now applies to buildings with four or more units, although Chiu’s legislation would lower that to buildings with two or more units while legalizing such rentals and requiring host to register with the city and live in the units for at least 275 days per year, meaning rentals would be limited to 90 days per year.

Tobener’s lawsuits list 210 violations in the 20 units it targets, seeking fines totaling $210,000. But he emphasized that money is not the issue: “The San Francisco Tenants Union doesn’t care about the penalties, they just want to put the message out that we’re going after landlords who do this and we want those units returned to the market.”


any landlord who does short-term lets is liable for anything.

This appears to be politically motivated as most class action lawsuits are.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 3:19 pm

have been Ellis'ed and they cannot be re-rented for 5 years anyway. The fact that those lets are short-term is irrelevant because Ellis makes no distinction.

The statute of limitation for these things is fairly short so I'm not sure how many fish these parasites will catch.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

Not sure how the SF Tenants Union has standing to bring its lawsuits. Is Herrera or the SFTU going to start suing tenants who rent out units on AirBNB, too?

Posted by The Commish on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 3:38 pm

could be held to be discriminatory.

But it's only Ellis'ed buildings being looked at here. So it doesn't mean that all short-term lets are illegal, and in fact Chui is saying they are legal.

Thousands of people are doing this so we cannot have a witch hunt of everyone

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 1:42 am

California Penal Code 653.23. (a)

It is unlawful for any person to :

(2) Collect or receive all or part of the proceeds earned from an
act or acts of prostitution committed by another person in violation
of subdivision (b) of Section 647.

Please put them out of their misery!!!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 3:50 pm

The units won't be put back on the market for 5 years anyway. And, after that, it'll be rent controlled but rented at market rate.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 4:36 pm

the unit is technically under rent control.

If you rent to a French tourist, they are going to leave.

Rent only to people with no legal right to stay here!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 1:43 am

If they won't leave when you want them to, call ICE on them.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 25, 2014 @ 3:39 am

Then-mayor Willie Brown said he would address affordable housing situation. Did he?

Posted by S L on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 8:32 am

Then-mayor Willie Brown said he would address affordable housing situation. Did he?

Posted by S L on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 8:32 am

‘Then-mayor Willie Brown said he would address affordable housing situation. Did he?’

Posted by S L on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 8:35 am

$$$ in our pockets to afford those rents

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 9:34 am

Say, that's a stunning full page ad in the paper this week for the NEMA development across the street from the Twitter world headquarters. When do you begin running display ads from Airbnb?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 10:15 pm

Hooker ads sustained them before the internet killed that gravy train, and SFBG never recovered financially from that loss.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 25, 2014 @ 3:38 am

There's also advertising from Camel cigarettes, reminding readers Big Tobacco has friends at the Guardian.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 25, 2014 @ 9:39 am

I've been making efforts to the understanding, Whereas a tenant summons to court, court clerk would not accept the an answer to complaint, a verdict render without a judge case review.but six months of abritration without sign waiver and proof of evidence for complaint never presented beyond reasonable doubt.yet a verdict render against defendant , of an eviction order.does the state of CCalifornia law indifference with Washington DC. Tenant/Landlord laws processes?

Posted by Gilland McGuire on Apr. 25, 2014 @ 1:14 pm

Rent control segregation is the most unfair advantage handed out in a TOTALLY discriminatory manor by the city ( no building built after 1978 has it ), to even RICH people because it is not MEANS TESTED.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 28, 2014 @ 6:42 am

many homes available for rent that are exempt from rent control, such as new units, SFH's , condo's and live-work lofts.

You will find very few rent-controlled units even though they can initially rent at the market. Owners just do not want the hassle and would rather do short-term corporate lets or sell as TICs.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 28, 2014 @ 7:33 am

how many, if any, single family homes being used as boarding houses and illegal apartment buildings has the city closed down?

these illegal boarding houses have many tenants with thier many vehicles taking up street parking and often there are not enough trash recepticles, so thier tenants dump trash in nieghbors trash boxes or in front of neighbors homes.

when citizens complained to a supervisor, the response was "they gotta live somewhere"Then put all of em next door to the Mayor and supervisors homes

the overpopulation density promoted by the politicians is ruining this city!

Not every one who would like to live in SF, can live here. period!!!

Posted by sftparty on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 8:51 am

and do not require any special kind of permit unless there are more than six rooms.

I should know. I've been running one since 1997.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 9:49 am

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.