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San Diego city attorney moves to shut down La Jolla Airbnb party mansion

La Jolla short term vacation rental
This La Jolla Farms mansion, which has been rented out on Airbnb and other home sharing platforms, was the target of multiple complaints to the police about loud, raucous parties. Airbnb has since taken down the listing from its site.
(Kristian Carreon/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

Owners, manager, and lessee of the one-acre property are charged with violations of public nuisance, unfair competition and false advertising laws following two years of repeated complaints to San Diego police

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott announced Friday she is moving to shut down a La Jolla Farms short-term vacation rental where police reported multiple raucous parties, including some that drew as many as 300 attendees.

Elliott filed a civil enforcement action asking for civil penalties of at least $1 million and a permanent injunction against the mansion owners, the property manager and the lessee, who leased it out as a short-term rental on a number of platforms, the most widely known being Airbnb.

Especially concerning, says Elliott, is that large gatherings were held at the seven-bedroom, ocean-view mansion during the pandemic, in violation of state and county COVID-19 public health orders. About a dozen of the complaints to police came in since May, a period when public health orders have barred large gatherings.

As recently as a week ago, police received an early morning call to investigate a loud party attended by more than 200, the legal filing states.

The home had been listed on Airbnb, as recently as Friday morning, for $861 a night, although the civil complaint states that it has been previously listed for rates as high as $2,821 a night. On some sites, it’s described as having as many as eight bedrooms capable of accommodating 16 guests.

“Shutting down dangerous party houses protects the public health by preventing COVID super-spreader events and other illegal behavior,” said Elliott, who is running for re-election. “It’s unfortunate that San Diego does not have short-term rental regulations in place. Relief for this neighborhood would have come much sooner. Instead we must rely on time-intensive prosecutions at significant taxpayer expense.”

Airbnb confirmed Friday afternoon that it had removed the listing from its site “while we investigate further.” In addition to Airbnb, the home has been listed on a number of much lesser-known platforms, including Planet of Hotels, Booked.net and Rentberry. Priceline also has the home on its website, characterizing it as a “Spectacular $12Mill Beach Mansion-Clear Ocean View.”

Targeted in Elliott’s complaint are husband and wife property owners Mousa Hussain Mushkor and Zahra Ali Kasim, who acquired the home in 1988; their property manager, Nital Meshkoor, and Steven S. Barbarich, who was leasing the home and listing it on Airbnb as a short-term rental. The Union-Tribune was unable to reach any of the individuals for comment.

Described in the Airbnb listing as an $8 million cliffside mansion overlooking the beach below, the home is located at 9660 Black Gold Road, just east of La Jolla Farms Road and about a half-mile from UC San Diego. One listing says the 1-acre property includes tennis and basketball courts, a swimming pool, koi ponds, a library and a yoga/zen room.

Elliott’s office is alleging that the owners, manager and lessee are maintaining a public nuisance and engaging in unfair competition, including false advertising. They also failed to secure a required business tax license, and, according to the civil complaint, are guilty of various health and safety, building and fire code violations, including mosquito larvae in standing water, exposed electrical wires, excessive vegetation, and missing glass panes from a foyer window that was covered with plywood.

The rental has drawn at least 30 calls to San Diego police, requiring officers to spend more than 173 hours at the property investigating the complaints. Most of the incidents, Elliott’s office said, involved “raucous” parties, some with up to 300 guests.

During one such gathering, gunfire was reported to police, Elliott said. Partygoers questioned by police said gunshots were fired during a fight that had occurred earlier. Police found shell casings outside the property, and a neighbor found an additional casing the next day and turned it over to police.

In another instance, the San Diego Fire Department received a call to assist an injured man. When police arrived, they could not locate the individual, but the next day he was found at a local hospital, and he said that during the party he was doing pull-ups on the bathroom clothing rack when it came out of the wall and struck him, causing a 1-inch cut on his head, Elliott’s filing states.

Other complaints cited by police included firearms on site, assault, underage drinking, and theft, Elliott’s office said.

The defendants in the case began advertising the La Jolla home as a vacation rental in 2017 but it wasn’t until a year later that the police started receiving complaints, according to the legal filing.

The court filing comes more than two months after Elliott took action to shut down a Bankers Hill short-term rental, accusing the owner, a well-known San Diego restaurateur, and his property manager of multiple violations, including hosting loud gatherings by renters in violation of state and county COVID-19 regulations.

That action also was precipitated by neighbors making numerous complaints to police about loud parties. Not long after, Airbnb said it was suspending the listing of the five-bedroom rental as it investigated the matter.

City attorney spokeswoman Hilary Nemchik said Elliott’s office is in talks with the property owner, restaurateur David Contreras Curiel, and there is no court date at this time.

In recent months, Airbnb has made a point of highlighting its efforts to crack down on so-called party houses. While Airbnb instituted last year a worldwide prohibition of homes that it said had become persistent neighborhood nuisances, more recently it announced that it would start banning all parties and events in homes listed on its website.

It so far has suspended or removed 17 listings throughout San Diego County that received complaints or violated its policies on parties and events. And since it began monitoring last year what it calls high-risk reservations, more than 95 reservations in San Diego County have been canceled, Airbnb said.

In addition, in keeping with restrictions on last-minute bookings and policies that bar guests under the age of 25 from booking entire-home listings locally, it has redirected more than 8,400 guests to private room listings or hotel rooms throughout the county, Airbnb reported this month.

Short-term rentals, which have grown in popularity with the rising number of online home-sharing sites, have long been a problematic issue for the city of San Diego. Despite multiple attempts, the city so far has been unable to adopt a set of regulations governing overnight stays of less than 30 days. Elliott has previously issued an opinion stating that overnight stays of less than 30 days are barred under the municipal code, but that has never been enforced.

Earlier this month, a compromise short-term rental proposal advanced by San Diego City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, with the support of the hospitality workers labor union and Expedia — which owns VRBO and HomeAway — went before the city’s Planning Commission. No action on the proposal was taken. Instead, the commission sent the matter back to city staff to address concerns related mostly to technical issues of how the regulations would be administered and enforced.

A hearing date has been set for Dec. 3 to revisit the proposed regulations.

Updates:

5:01 PM, Oct. 23, 2020: This story has been updated to include a comment from Airbnb.


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