City cites ‘pods’ building in downtown SF as unsafe, unpermitted

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San Francisco's Department of Building Inspection cited the dwelling with tiny bed "pods" at 12 Mint Plaza in SoMa for an unsafe exit and making changes without permits.

San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection cited the dwelling with tiny bed “pods” at 12 Mint Plaza in SoMa for an unsafe exit and making changes without permits.

Stephen Council/SFGATE

Set up this June in SoMa’s Mint Plaza, the 28-bed residence run by Brownstone Shared Housing hosts an assortment of frugal renters, including artificial intelligence startup founders and other tech workers, media reports say. Residents live in tight quarters — the tiny pods are stacked two-high in long rows, with only curtains for privacy — but in a brutally expensive housing market, the dwelling has been regularly finding tenants.

Now, the city’s Department of Building Inspection is alleging that Brownstone cut a few corners to get the place up and running. The department filed a notice of violation on Tuesday after inspecting the site the day prior.

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Brownstone’s installation of the sleeping pods constitutes an “illegal change of use” from an office to a residential dwelling, the department said in its notice. They added that a toilet was replaced with a shower stall without the necessary building and plumbing permits. 

The front door of the building, when locked, requires a key to exit, the department wrote — which creates a “life safety issue.”

The Mint Plaza property would be full of renters in October, the startup’s CEO told SFGATE in late September.

The Mint Plaza property would be full of renters in October, the startup’s CEO told SFGATE in late September.

Stephen Council/SFGATE

Within five days, the firm must replace the lock with a type that doesn’t require a key to leave, in case of emergency, and must obtain permits within 30 days for the shower installation, the notice says. Brownstone also has 30 days to file a “change of use” permit to legalize the conversion to a residential space and the installation of the sleeping pods or, the notice says, the firm could revert the property to its “last known legal condition.”

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The startup’s CEO, James Stallworth, told SFGATE on Wednesday that Brownstone would comply with the city’s requirements and keep the San Francisco location up and running. Previously, he’d told SFGATE he didn’t think they needed new permits. He pointed out Wednesday that the features of the pods, which his firm designed and constructed, were not cited in the city complaint.

“We just have to file the ‘change of use’ and make sure that the lease is correct in their system and make a couple of fixes, but nothing related to the pods themselves,” Stallworth said.

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