With the master lease to the San Francisco Art Institute, which had been using the building for student housing, having expired last year, and 52 of the 54 units, 27 of which had private bathrooms, having been delivered vacant, the former Abby Hotel at 630 Geary Street traded for $8 million last June with “plans [having] been drawn up to add private bathrooms to the remaining units.”

And in July, an Over the Counter (OTC) permit for an “in kind [and] cosmetic” remodel, including new “paint, flooring [and patching],” was requested, approved and issued for the building, which then returned to the market as a newly remodeled “Abby Hall.”

But with a field inspection having noticed 36 new showers, 30 new toilets and a new communal kitchen having been installed, along with the split of the former manager’s unit into two new units and the construction of a new manager’s suite in the basement, which was a bit beyond the “cosmetic” remodeled that had been permitted, an enforcement action is now underway along with a request to retroactively approve the premeditated approach and allow the building to operate as a 58-room Residential Hotel.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by AstrosFan

    Better to ask forgiveness than permission…

  2. Posted by Juan Doe

    Great reporting! This will be a good case study to see how the ROI of a retroactive approval and fine make it worthwhile for someone to make the same play to wait for permits, spend more on architect fees and carrying costs.

  3. Posted by marvinsnephew

    It is pathetic that this is the M.O. of developers in SF. Juan Doe is correct that it is probably much less expensive to play the game this way than proceeding per the rules. Until the penalties are severe for this behavior, it will continue unabated. Which comes first, an easier permitting process or higher penalties??

    • Posted by Adam

      It is the M.O. because it works more efficiently than the legal process. And if I was someone in the process of jumping through a thousand hoops to get my own project built legally and saw this nonsense going on, I would see it as grounds to sue over unequal treatment.

  4. Posted by Notcom

    Wait…..they want to operate a onetime SRO as a…SRO ??
    That’s just so…so…well, I don’t think I can find the words for it !!

  5. Posted by DAA

    Does part of “forgiveness” mean the completed work is inspected and corrected if not up to code? That’s a lot of new plumbing and electrical behind those walls now.

    • Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

      It would be difficult to inspect the work without opening up the walls and floors. That’s why electrical and plumbing inspections are signed off in stages. One of the sign off stages is right before the walls are sealed, it gives the inspector an opportunity to see what was built into the walls.

      • Posted by Neighborhood Activist

        Any after-the-fact permitting should indeed require all of the relevant walls and ceilings to be opened up for inspection. If that doesn’t happen, how can DBI justify the necessity of such inspections on other projects?

        Yes, that’s going to be super expensive and time-consuming for the project sponsor. Tough sh@t….

        • Posted by DAA

          Exactly why I was wondering, and agree.

      • Posted by Neighborhood Activist

        Continuing my punitive rant… but it seems to me that part of the process of legalizing unpermitted work should be a disclosure of who, exactly, performed the work.

        If it was a licensed contractor(s), they should be penalized for knowingly doing work without permits (or work beyond the permits they had…) Maybe even suspend licenses for a year. You have to give contractors an incentive to play by the rules.

        If the work was not done by a licensed contractor, that’s illegal too, and I believe there are already penalties on the book for contracting without a license. Those penalties should be assessed, including the six months in jail that are part of the statutory penalty.

        The owner/developer should pay a price, but so should those who take on construction work they know is illegal.

        • Posted by Ohlone Californio

          OK. And no more anonymous whistle blowing. All complaints need names. And if someone brings in DBI in error, claiming “illegal” work? A 50K fine.

          • Posted by Neighborhood Activist

            Ha. Get rid of anonymous complaints and nobody is going to complain, fearing retribution. Much of our construction industry in SF is already pretty mafia-like. Get rid of anonymous complaints and the transformation will be complete.

            Contractors who are not doing illegal work should not fear complaints that they are.

          • Posted by sparky-b

            Not true. 50% of jobs with all the right permits get complaints called in. The job is stopped immediately and then you have to book an inspection to show that it is all to the plan. Then it happens several more times losing days each time.

            $50k isn’t going to happen, or any fine. It would be nice to not get stopped until the work is looked at by the inspector though. And then maybe the same person can’t call into the same project again?

  6. Posted by soccermom

    Who cares? If the toilets leak, it will be the owner’s problem to fix. Why should I care if there are more places for people to live?

    Meanwhile everyone can shoplift anything with our current DA’s enforcement policy.

    San Francisco: where toilet installations are a bigger concern than public defecation. How about someone to stop the break-ins in my neighborhood?

    • Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

      They’re totally different violations with different enforcement needs and differing impacts.

      While break ins are traumatic, they affect residents temporarily to replace their stolen items and it is hard to catch burglars. Compare that to dangerous code violations which are easier to catch via inspection, impact many people for a long period of time, and can have dire consequences.

      The city should certainly crack down on both, but building code violations like this are the low hanging fruit. Compare that to trying to ensure that no cars get broken into in the whole city for a mere week. What would that cost?

      • Posted by Notcom

        It’s hard to have a dangerous loo replacement.

        • Posted by AY

          Bathrooms and kitchens are two of the worst places for unpermitted work, basements as well. Water and electricity are a dangerous mix.

          • Posted by Notcom

            But was there electrical and plumbing done in the same places (other than the two management units)?

            It sounded like the room work was limited to two plumbing tasks: “36 new showers, 30 new toilets”; I interpreted the latter to mean replacing the W/C – given that it approximates the number of pre-existing baths – I’m less clear on what “new” shower means.

            But regardless, and even given that a fool could fry him/herself just screwing in a light-bulb (“how many amateurs does it take?? two: one to attempt it and one to call 911…”) this doesn’t sound like particularly ‘dangerous’ work. Certainly not at the ‘let’s-underpin-our-duplex-with-cornflakes’ level

          • Posted by SocketSite

            In effect, around 30 new bathroom suites were added to rooms that previously didn’t have bathrooms and weren’t originally designed with the moisture considerations associated with such, and would have included opening up the walls and new lighting and possibly outlet work (based on an outline of the aforementioned, but unpermitted, plans).

          • Posted by Notcom

            OK, then that’s fundamentally different; (as noted) I had read the post as being a fixture replacement in existing facilities (which, I hope we’d agree, is a lot less likely to produce ill-adventure).

            Suggested fines: $5/ambiguous wording; $10/poor reading comprehension: please pay the cashier on the way out (touchless methods are preferred)

            And bad, BAD SFIA…you perpetual reprobate.; please report to your parole office for subsequent action (or INaction).

          • Posted by SocketSite

            The San Francisco Art Institute, which shouldn’t be confused with the Academy of Art, wasn’t party to the unpermitted work.

          • Posted by Notcom

            I’m going to quit now,,,before I dig any deeper 🙂

    • Posted by SFRealist

      The rules may be onerous, but it’s not fair if they are not applied to the big players (who can afford the correct lawyers and consultants and permit expeditors) and not to the small players (who cannot).

      I believe the rules should be changed, but until they are, everyone should be forced to play by them.

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