Nob Hill landlord dinged over short-term rentals

A Nob Hill property owner’s bid to avoid penalties for using a residential building exclusively for vacation rentals by seeking approval to operate as a hotel was unanimously rejected by the San Francisco Planning Commission Thursday.

Jennifer Solomon, the owner of 40-44 Pleasant Street, had applied for a permit to operate as a hotel after planning officials issued a notice in November 2014 that she was violating city planning codes.

The four-story building with three one-bedroom units, located a block from Grace Cathedral and close to major hotels including the Fairmont and the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental, is used entirely for short-term rentals and has no long-term residential occupants, according to planning officials.

Solomon, who was not present at today’s hearing, has previously said she has been offering vacation rentals in the building for more than 20 years without issues.

A number of neighbors spoke against the hotel application Thursday, however, saying they did not like the transient element it introduced to the neighborhood.

Several speakers warned that the commission would be setting a dangerous precedent if it allowed housing to be converted to hotel use.

Short-term vacation rentals through companies such as Airbnb and VRBO have become a hotly contested issue in San Francisco, where activists have argued that they are eating into the supply of housing and causing quality of life issues for neighbors.

A law that took effect last February imposed regulations for the first time on The City’s short-term rental industry, including limits on how many days per year a unit can be rented and a requirement that hosts register with the city.

The city also created an office of Short-Term Rental Administration and Enforcement over the summer to manage implementation of the regulations.

The complaint against Solomon, however, was made before the short-term rental regulations took effect, so enforcement has taken place under pre-existing planning codes, officials said Thursday.

Proposition F, a measure on the November ballot, would have imposed even tighter restrictions and placed the legal onus on the listing companies to make sure that a property was properly registered and in compliance with city regulations.

That measure was defeated, however, after a campaign in which Airbnb spent more than $8 million opposing it.

Commissioner Dennis Richardson, a vocal supporter of Proposition F, expressed frustration with the slow pace of enforcement against violators of short-term rental regulations:

“This is the worst of the worst of the worst. … What really worries me is that this is the tip of the iceberg.”

Solomon has the option of appealing today’s ruling to the Board of Supervisors, according to planning officials.