Purchased for $1.9 million in 2008 and listed for $3.25 million last year, but withdrawn from the market without a reported sale, the corner penthouse unit #804 atop 74 New Montgomery Street, “a unique residence in one the most exclusive neighborhoods downtown,” is outfitted with two private outdoor spaces, including a large corner terrace off the 1,671-square-foot unit’s great room and a smaller side terrace between its two bedrooms.

A few weeks ago the City received a complaint regarding some odd construction on the condo’s smaller terrace, work which the owner had represented as the assembly of “outdoor furniture” to a neighbor when confronted, and a DBI inspector was dispatched.

Denied entry by the owner of the unit, the inspector was escorted to the building’s roof by a building engineer, which revealed that the new “outdoor furniture” was actually an unpermitted Jacuzzi, installed atop new decking, with a wooden superstructure, rigid foam insulation, and solar panels, all sans permits, approvals or inspections.

This is obviously just another case of a nosy neighbor calling the “fun police,” for what could possibly go wrong with a few hundred gallons of water, unpermitted electrical work and an unsecured structure on an individual’s private property overhead? And yes, an enforcement action is underway.

35 thoughts on “The Penthouse Fun Police Were Called”
  1. “… what could possibly go wrong with a few hundred gallons of water, unpermitted electrical work and an unsecured structure on an individual’s private property overhead?”

    This is a legit concern for the other owners in this building. The odd thing is that all of those potential hazards could be safely mitigated with proper engineering.

    1. Agree.

      It’s too bad the author characterizes fellow building owners as ‘fun police’ when they clearly have an interest in building safety in floors above.

  2. I consider this to be a symptom of excessive permit fees, which for something small like this could easily be 15-20k. The exorbitant fees are possibly just another offshoot of Prop 13 which makes it incredibly difficult to raise taxes, but “fees” are open to being whatever a municipality wants them to be.

    1. Excessive permit fees led the owner to eschew any of the necessary engineering or retrofitting to safely install their jacuzzi?

      1. Just because they didn’t get permits does not mean it wasn’t installed safely. There’s a ton of unpermitted work. Most of it is safe.

        1. And yet, you don’t see a lot of unpermitted roof jacuzzis in all of those Avenue homes with the *otherwise safe and sanitary* unauthorized dwelling units. And this is to say nothing of the fact that they want to put a literal ton of water in a small footprint and on what is probably defined as common area for the building.

          I’ll be the first to argue that claims (usually by tenants) of the emotional distress issuing from lack of permits is overblown, but building codes/permits are a core public health/consumer protection issue, and this seems like a good scenario to die on that hill.

    2. I consider the above comment diagnosing the problem to be “…a symptom of excessive permit fees” to be a great example of how banana nutcakes libertarians can be.

      In my experience, any sufficiently libertarian owner who feels they should be able to do whatever they want with “their private property” can define the word “excessive” to be any amount whatsoever.

      When I was younger I rented an apartment from a bootleg landlord who converted a garage elsewhere on the property to an apartment, complete with illegal kitchen and bathroom with no permits. When I asked why he didn’t seek permits, he said the fees would have been more than the amount he spent on lumber putting up the partitions in the former garage, and that amount was excessive.

      I am sure the chain yankers in these comment threads would ask “In what way was the world [made] a better place (yours or anyone else’s) by the amount of time you spent complaining about the provenance of an apartment in a garage”, but for the non banana nutcakes, it’s obvious that the risks unpermitted construction pose to the other residents in the building and the general public outweigh the desires of the owner to maximize revenue on their investment.

      You can’t reason with these people, they only care about themselves, so large fines are the only way to shape their behavior.

      1. There’s a huge gap between “builders looking to circumvent building code entirely” and “builders looking to avoid permit fees that are greater than the hard costs of a code compliant project.” I’ve had an awning installation over a deck where quoted fees were almost triple construction costs. Great job arguing a straw man, though.

        That ignores the other, related issues of permits being more or less worth less than the job card paper they’re printed on given the thoroughness of many site inspections.

      2. Got it. As a young person you happily chose to rent an apartment that was constructed illegally but now that you are old and you have more resources, you thing such an arrangement should be totally forbidden.

        1. Nope. The apartment I rented was lawfully constructed. The landlord who thought because he owned the building he should be able to do whatever he wanted with it, turned one of the garages into another “apartment” while I was living in the building.

          But I am against allowing landlords to rent out illegally built “units”, because it forces up the price of housing for everyone. Prosecuting and fining people who do that makes the world a better place by ensuring everyone in the market plays by the same rules.

          I’d happily admit that probably doesn’t apply to the situation where someone is trying to put in a Jacuzzi without permits (the situation here), but what you and Jake T seem to be overlooking is that the attitude of certain property owners that they should get to decide for themselves on a case-by-case basis whether or not building rules, or fees, are reasonable is a recipe for anarchy, especially in the case where that decision will be driven by an owners desire for profit. Greed is a thirst that can never be quenched.

          That’s why I said you can’t reason with these people, you can only punish them for lawbreaking/rule breaking behavior.

          1. Was your concern about the propriety of the new apartment enough to make you move out?

            I agree entirely with you that people shouldn’t be able to rent out illegally-built units and I don’t believe I have ever argued that position. If you have a problem with “these people” I am not one of “those people.” I own exactly zero illegal rental apartments.

            I disagree that people renting out illegal units raises market rents. I think it clearly lowers rents as it increases the supply and provides housing for people who would have to spend more in money or time to get the equivalent legal unit. I’m not terribly bothered by it, because I think most people living in such circumstances are not having an easy time as it is, and saying, “we need them to move someplace legal” probably equates to somewhere outside the city that would require an arduous commute (pollution, exhaustion, etc.). BART and 101 are frustration conductors.

            I also think if you put a jacuzzi over your neighbor’s condo without a permit you deserve to have the book thrown at you.

            This site has featured several recent “Dwelling Unit Mergers” in local parlance in which owners of two-unit buildings have connected those units with a stairway. My problem with the local process is not building inspection or requirements for safety. Planning Department approval and Building Department Inspection approval are separate, and one cannot obtain a building permit without first going through Planning.

            Planning review subjects a project to a range of subjective interference that, in my opinion, is unreasonable. I think if a building owner wants to connect two units in a two unit building, that should be entirely up to her/them. I don’t think neighbors should get to weigh in. I don’t think a junior planner should be interpreting subjective guidelines.

            Fortunately ADU legistlation has made the addition of units more straightforward, so if you old landlord was doing the same work today, he would have greater certainty of being able to build his new garage apartment. I think everyone offering housing should be offering safe housing.

            Building inspection is perfectly appropriate. Third parties and neighbors wanting to “work out mutual issues” should have no part in the permit approval process for a private owner working to merge units within her own existing 2-unit building.

          2. Silly Liberals thinking they can just decide which laws to enforce, follow or which Federal Agencies they will cooperate with. Whatever could go wrong?

            As well played in a classic Golden Girls episode where Blanche was putting in a Jacuzzi – ‘illegally’… Rose, I’m going to catch him (the Building Inspector) but you’re going to sleep with him!

    3. Oh no! Not $20k in fees on an addition to a $3.25 million penthouse! Working people will never be able to afford this now.

  3. “exclusive neighborhood downtown.” This is a decidedly unappealing location for a unit like this, to say nothing of the hot tub.

    What type of buyer wants a multi-million dollar unit on New Montgomery?

    1. Tons of people apparently. But the penthouse seems like the worst possible deal because the outdoor space is totally surrounded by far larger buildings. Who wants to be out in their hot tub while Al Gore looks down from the 99th floor of the St. Regis?

      1. “Who wants to be out in their hot tub while Al Gore looks down from the 99th floor of the St. Regis?”

        I feel seen.

  4. Not to excuse the unpermitted work by any means, but in a city where you can sell and smoke dope on the sidewalk with zero consequences, the penthouse owner here may have had the feeling that rule enforcement was lax around these parts.

  5. I think the more relevant example of lax enforcement would be someone like Mel Murphy – served on the Department of Building Inspection’s Oversight commission from 2006 to 2012, was it’s President, and, built a 5 story building on 26th Street [with no permits], not to mention the illegal units on both Alabama and Hampshire streets. Any longtime contractor in SF can give a dozen similar examples of DBI not following its own rules to make $$$.

    This aquaphiles error was not be connected to the right people.

  6. FYI, a building inspector has the absolute right to enter ANY building or property to inspect for violations. The unit owner’s attempt to deny entrance to the inspector was never going to work, and if anything, just served to make it worse for the unit owner when the inspector inevitably entered.

    Now, the permits, if they can even get them, will be slow walked through the process and every splinter will need to be precisely placed or the inspector, probably the same one the unit owner denied entry to, will simply reject it before the unit owner gives up. You deny entry to a building inspector at your peril.

    1. absolute right to enter

      WHOA there: certainly there has to be a qualification, such as a reasonable belief that some violation exists. I mean (even) the police don’t have an absolute right.

      Now in this case such reason seemed to exist, so I don’t question the action, but expanding this into some general principle seems misguided.

  7. The trick is to hire hot models to hang around the construction so the looky-loos think they’re getting instagram thirst traps in the hot tub. Then when the real bods hop in for a soak, the Fun Police are too ashamed to call in a “my neighbors aren’t hot enough for a hot tub”

  8. You’ve gotta have a lot of crazy chutzpah and sheer idiocy to think your fellow condo owners are gonna stand by and let you install a jacuzzi over their heads without permits and going through proper channels. That’s got to be a massive violation of the CC&Rs and a huge legal liability for this doofus.

  9. Sitting naked in a hot tub with friends would certainly be a distraction for the workers in the high-rises nearby

  10. Is a permit required for the installation of a hot tub? I can see why it is needed here, but is a permit required if a hot tub is installed in a yard?

    1. At minimum you’ll need to install an electrical branch, which requires a permit. Most hot tubs also need plumbing connections.

  11. Condos, an ideal way to buy yourself into a group of sticky people who hate one another… having been through the experience once via an inherited property, I will never entertain the possibility of putting myself back into that endless hell ever again. And yes, they should throw the book at this careless creep and his hare brained hot tub install…..

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