Since there are, after all, lots of sad housing situations in San Francisco these days that do not appear on Craigslist, I'm taking a little moment in this column to highlight one of those and take a break from the Craigslist trolling, as I have occasionally before, in the interest of keeping you both informed and well roundedly sad.
This week, I'd like to talk about this gloriously terrible, frustrating, migraine-inducing scenario described in the Chronicle regarding a feud between owners in a tenancy-in-common (TIC) on Telegraph Hill, involving a unit that one owner duped another owner into renting to him via Airbnb.
It seems like a con artist tale, but it may actually just be a cautionary one involving a less than scrupulous dude taking advantage of San Francisco's tenant laws in order to fuck over some also perhaps less than scrupulous neighbors he'd grown to hate. So in that way it's also kind of fun.
Chapter 1: It's 2012, and Michelle Huang and her boyfriend Thomas Payne decide to go in on a six-unit TIC on Vallejo Street with three other people. Two of those people are already living in the building as renters, and decide to purchase their units. The fate of the other former tenants in the four other units is anyone's guess it sounds as though they were forced or bought out, but the units may have also been empty but Payne purchases two of the units and Huang purchases a third that are soon empty, and a studio unit on the top floor is bought by one Sandeep Hingorani. Michelle and Tom, by the way, bought the properties as investments, and live together elsewhere, but nearby.
Almost immediately, a battle breaks out between the homeowners over building repairs and what it sounds like is that Sandeep was less than cooperative and perhaps angry about having to spend extra money.
Chapter 2: Whatever exactly happened to the tenants in Michelle and Tom's units, they begin renting two of them out on Airbnb and Flipkey (one is allegedly "uninhabitable"), possibly on a full-time basis, though that is not clear. This ultimately pisses Sandeep off more, and he claims the revolving door of visitors and noise makes his life miserable. He then allegedly vows to make Michelle and Tom's life hell so that they're forced to sell their units.
Chapter 3: It's 2015, and after years of plotting the demise of his neighbors, according to court documents Sandeep allegedly concocts a scheme to pose as an Airbnb guest named Jim Tako and he succeeds in renting Michelle's two-bedroom unit for himself and his "associates" for 60 days. (Michelle said that she was trying to be in compliance with SF's Airbnb law by requiring stays of 30 days or more, though since this was not her primary residence, and since she was clearly trying to keep it rented full time via Airbnb, it sounds like she may have been breaking that law by exceeding 90 days, but we'll give her the benefit of the doubt, as the Chron's Carolyn Said apparently has.)
And just to prove that there was some serious laziness/idiocy happening here, Michelle and Tom say they just "trusted" Airbnb and failed to notice the fact that Jim Tako was a brand new Airbnb user with a photo of Don Johnson as his profile pic, and failed to be concerned when they never met him after he moved in.
Chapter 4: Sandeep may have been paying attention to local news stories about Airbnb guests who become squatters, because after the 60 days are up and after he's been paying rent via credit card through Airbnb, he serves legal papers to Michelle announcing his intention to remain in the unit, now that he's established tenancy after 30 days, asserting his right to a month-to-month tenancy. He even gets this right affirmed by the Rent Board. The associates he spoke of? That would be his elderly mother and his friend.
Sandeep claims that he was, innocently, merely seeking a place to stay nearby while he made renovations in his studio unit, and his mother and friend just needed places to stay too. But why the pseudonym and the fake profile on Airbnb?
Chapter 5: The parties are battling this out in court, and Sandeep returns "a raft of allegations of his own against Payne and Huang, including harassment, creating unsafe living conditions, doing major construction without permits and seeking to violate rent control." Meanwhile, Sandeep and his mom remain in the unit 10 months, finally vacating on Thursday, claiming "constructive eviction" because electricity at the property had been turned off.
Nobody's noses are clean in all of this, and one of the other owners in the building made it clear that "there’s enough wrong on both sides that the only ones who are going to benefit from this are the lawyers."
But let that be a strong word of warning to anyone thinking about a) renting their Airbnb for longer than 32 continuous days, which smart people should already realize is fraught with peril; or b) anyone going in on a TIC with total strangers who could turn into your worst enemies.
And let this also be your weekly dose of schadenfreude, only this time toward landlords who think they can make life easier by using Airbnb and not getting stuck with a long-term tenant.