When Jennifer Solomon purchased her three-story Nob Hill apartment building in 1993, she proudly considered herself one of the few San Francisco property owners exclusively offering the units as what has since been dubbed “short-term rentals.”
Solomon rented the one-bedroom units at 40 Pleasant St. to opera singers, ballet dancers, the operator of the annual ice skating rink at the Embarcadero, visiting family members and friends of neighbors – mostly for several weeks at a time, and almost always without any problems.
For decades, the units served as Solomon’s primary source of income while she raised her children in Sebastopol. She loved the work, especially “being able to give these people their monthly spaces that they rely on; they travel from city to city and are part of the fabric of San Francisco.”
Fast forward to 2016, when San Francisco faces a housing crisis that many argue is exacerbated by the recent skyrocketing number of short-term rentals in The City. San Francisco first legalized short-term rentals last year, but a measure to further restrict them failed at the ballot in November.
But the battle to regulate short-term rentals took an unprecedented twist this week, when the Planning Commission was scheduled to hear a request from Solomon to convert the use of the three units from residential to hotel use only.
The request marks the first time since the short-term rental law took effect that a property owner has applied for a conditional use permit to convert residential units into hotel units, a spokesperson with the Planning Department confirmed.
On Wednesday, a day before the hearing, Solomon sent a letter to the Planning Commission requesting the hearing be continued to give her time to quell backlash and “misinformation” that she says has surfaced since her request, including flyers distributed in the neighborhood proclaiming the building is being turned into a hotel.
But Solomon said she doesn’t even want the property to be designated for hotel use only, because that would eliminate the possibility that the units – each of which are rent-controlled because they were built before 1979 – could be used for long-term housing without applying for another permit.
However, Solomon said she’s been told by city planners that she needs a hotel permit to continue offering the units as short-term rentals.
“I don’t want to pull the units, which as a hotel it would do, off the permanent housing market,” Solomon explained. “I want to continue what I want to do and at some time if I decide I want to offer long term rentals, I don’t want to have to file with The City to try to add units back to the stock.”
Solomon added that the short-term rental laws that legalized the practice last year actually hurt property owners like her, because the current law imposes a cap of 90 days a year when the resident isn’t present, called un-hosted stays. But such units, she said, provide a needed service for San Francisco.
“The City needs some full time rental units that are dedicated to this, that aren’t somebody’s home with their underwear in the drawer and clothes in the closet,” Solomon said.
She also emphasized that no residents have been evicted from her building to make way for short-term rentals. In fact, she noted, the prior owner even rented out two of the three units as a bed-and-breakfast, and lived in the top unit.
The Planning Department has recommended that Solomon’s request be denied in part because “the removal of rent-controlled units would be detrimental to the housing stock,” according to a staff report.