City Attorney seeks to shut down Bankers Hill Airbnb, claiming loud parties during COVID pandemic
Owner and property manager accused of violating multiple local and state laws, including COVID-19 public health orders
The San Diego City Attorney’s office took action Friday to shut down a Bankers Hill short-term rental, accusing the owner and property manager of multiple violations, including the hosting of loud gatherings by renters in violation of state and county COVID-19 regulations.
A civil enforcement action, filed Friday in San Diego Superior Court by City Attorney Mara Elliott, was precipitated by more than a dozen complaints from neighbors made to San Diego police since early last year about what they said were raucous parties at the five-bedroom rental. A number of those complaints were made when restrictions on public gatherings were imposed earlier this year because of the ongoing pandemic, Elliott’s office said.
In addition to the public nuisance claims, the City Attorney’s office also cites multiple violations of the municipal code for what it states are illegal renovations and additions, plus failure to pay required business and tourism taxes and fees, as well as water and sewer bills.
“From packing a party house during a pandemic to illegally renovating an entire property, the conduct of the defendants in this case is egregious and unacceptable,” Elliott said in a statement. “No neighborhood should have to put up with such dangerous behavior.”
Elliott, whose office is seeking an injunction against property owner David Contreras Curiel and property manager Alexander Mendez and a civil penalty of at least $1 million, characterized the case as the first instance where the city has gone after a public nuisance involving a short-term rental.
She noted that before taking on a case of this kind, she first needs a formal referral from a mayoral department, in this case the police department. With the city’s code enforcement department unable to bring the property into compliance, Elliott’s office stepped in, relying, in part, on the state business and professions code, to form the basis of the court complaint.
Curiel, a prominent San Diego restaurateur, and Mendez said they were surprised to learn of the case filing when contacted Friday morning by a reporter from the Union-Tribune. Both said that while they were aware of periodic complaints from a neighbor about loud noise purportedly coming from the home, they knew of no actual large gatherings held at the house, nor were they ever contacted, they said, by police on the 14 occasions when officers were called to the residence.
“All of these police complaints are a shock to me,” said Curiel, co-owner of Karina’s restaurant group, which includes Saffron Thai in Mission Hills. “We don’t advertise the house as a party house. I spent a lot of money on the house and the furniture, and I’m not going to allow a party in my property especially in COVID times. And it’s clear we have never allowed parties.
“It’s just reckless for the city attorney’s office to do this in this manner, where they send a press release with baseless allegations rather than working together as I have done with the city on numerous occasions.”
While Airbnb-style rentals have long been a nettlesome issue for the city of San Diego, which so far has been unable to adopt a set of regulations governing overnight stays of less than 30 days, Elliott pointed out that the action she’s taking against the Bankers Hill property is not intended to be part of a wider crackdown on home-sharing.
“It’s the concern about the pandemic and a history of large gatherings at this home, even after the police department was called out,” she said in an interview. “I feel like we have an obligation to try and make it stop. What this really is about is there being a long history of public nuisances, and I’ve made it a priority to deal with substandard properties.”
“This is not a good solution for short-term rentals because it involves a potentially lengthy court case that could take months, a year, and neighborhoods want immediate satisfaction. This is an egregious case and took some time to build it.”
Located on 2nd Avenue near Quince Street, the home was described on Airbnb’s website as a “private oasis next to downtown,” featuring an indoor/outdoor sound system, jacuzzi, pool and BBQ, and capable of accommodating up to 12 guests. According to the city attorney’s legal filing, the nightly rates listed on Airbnb were $800 or more. The short-term rental platform has since removed the listing from its website.
“Airbnb policy expressly prohibits ‘party houses’ and we have suspended this listing as we investigate further,” Airbnb said in a statement Friday. “We take these reports very seriously and stand ready to support local officials in their efforts to address this issue.”
Elliott’s complaint, which cites violations of the state’s unfair competition law and municipal code, enumerates each of the occasions, beginning Feb. 5 — six weeks after Curiel purchased the house — when San Diego police reported that it responded to calls about “nuisance activity” at the home.
In January, for instance, police received a call to investigate a report of a loud party with “blaring speakers” and more than 20 people. When officers arrived within 15 minutes of the call, they observed a party with 100-plus partygoers and shut the gathering down, according to the city attorney complaint.
On another occasion, on May 16, the police department received several calls about a loud party at the 2nd Avenue home. Those calling claimed they had seen 30 to 40 attendees congregating in the front yard and several more driving around trying to find parking places, states the lawsuit. The officers contacted the renter, who “agreed to keep the noise down.”
Said Curiel in a statement, “Unfortunately, guests on occasion do break the rules and we always try to address them as quickly as possible. For this reason, I have a dedicated property manager to oversee the property and to ensure such behavior doesn’t occur. Furthermore, neither I nor my property manager have ever received any complaint from the police department about any large gatherings or ‘parties’ at the property. Certainly, if there was any such gatherings with 100 people at the property, there would be property damage and other evidence of a gathering of that size.”
Curiel declined to specifically respond to each of the allegations related to unpermitted renovations and failure to secure a business tax license and transient occupancy tax (TOT) certificate and non-payment of the Rental Unit Business Tax. However, he did say that he intends to “address all of the building issues.”
Among the alleged building code violations cited in the lawsuit are converting the garage into a second dwelling with a full kitchen and bathroom without permits, installing a pool and jacuzzi without permits and adding two bathrooms, also without permits.
While the City Attorney’s office states that Curiel and Mendez refused to schedule property inspections, both said they were willing to do so but had to cancel when Curiel had to be in Mexico. They said their efforts to reschedule were unsuccessful.
Elliott noted in her Friday news release that the action taken against the Curiel home is part of a wider effort to crack down on nuisance properties, “including sub-standard independent living facilities, that threaten public health and safety.”
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