San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott took bold legal action Friday morning in an effort to shut down a Banker’s Hill home used frequently as a short-term vacation rental.
Elliott said the San Diego Police Department has received more than a dozen noise complaints, including recent calls for service indicating a blatant disregard for state and county COVID-19 public health orders.
Several neighbors who logged complaints cheered the news of city enforcement.
Elliott is seeking civil penalties and a permanent injunction against property owner David Contreras Curiel and property manager Alexander Mendez.
The civil penalties of $2,500 per day for each violation maintained at the property add up to more than a million dollars according to Elliott.
"It’s really important for us to try and get this injunction because we're in the middle of a pandemic and we can't have these large gatherings in our communities it's making the neighborhood feel very unsafe," said Elliott.
The entire house holding up to 12 guests lists for more than $900 a night, according to screenshots of an Airbnb listing.
It has good reviews and “no major problems” according to the most recent guest who checked out of the home Friday morning.
But, according to documents provided by the City Attorney the home, which was remodeled a few years ago, never received the proper permits for a bunch of major upgrades including a swimming pool and a garage turned into a bedroom.
"There's a chance it's not even a safe property, that needs to be fixed," said Elliott who also said the owner hasn't paid the required taxes and fees to operate such a business creating unfair competition.
In a lengthy statement to NBC 7, Curiel, who leases several properties under the name “Curiel Collection,” criticized Elliott for "her decision to ambush constituents with baseless allegations and as a sensational press release rather than working together as I have done with the City on numerous occasions."
"As owner of the property listed in her filing, I take the management of the property, any disturbances to neighbors and all public health regulations seriously. The property is not marketed as a “party house” nor do we permit large parties at it," the statement read in part. Read the full statement at the bottom of this story.
Curiel provided NBC 7 with copies of text exchanges with a neighbor who complained about the noise. In the text, he provides video taken by his property manager which shows adequate noise levels of people simply talking in a backyard.
Elliott said Friday’s legal action is based on months of repeated complaints and multiple violations.
She also said this type of legal action is time-consuming and costly and underscores the importance for city council members to get short term rental regulations passed in the city of San Diego.
Curiel's response to Elliott's claims in full:
In response to City Attorney’s Mara Elliott’s civil enforcement action, I am shocked by her decision to ambush her constituents with baseless allegations and as a sensational press release rather than working together as I have done with the City on numerous occasions. As owner of the property listed in her filing, I take the management of the property, any disturbances to neighbors and all public health regulations seriously. The property is not marketed as a “party house” nor do we permit large parties at it. In fact, I have a vested financial interest to ensure anyone staying at the property doesn’t have large gatherings because of the potential property damage, refuse and other liabilities that come from such behavior. The maximum number of guests is 12, which is clearly stated on the listing. We do our best to regulate the property and number of guests at it at all times with a dedicated, full-time property manager. 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. My property manager has extended his contact information to neighbors in the event they have any legitimate concern about disturbances. When a concern has been raised, my property manager has investigated the concern and documented the activity at the property.
Finally, I also want to make clear that I was out of town during the dates the City chose to inspect. The City did not voice any opposition to waiting for my return to conduct the inspection. I am very disappointed by the City’s recent actions and wish they would have worked with us directly to address the issues instead of making this a publicity opportunity and using us an example. A press release forwarded to me by a journalist was the first we had heard about any action the City was taking. It’s extremely concerning that they would notify the media of these actions without bothering to inform us first or at all. We have not been notified in writing of any code violations to date.
Airbnb sent NBC 7 the following statement:
"Airbnb policy expressly prohibits 'party houses' and we have suspended this listing as we investigate further. We take these reports very seriously and stand ready to support local officials in their efforts to address this issue.”
- Airbnb has taken a number of recent steps to limit parties from occurring on our platform:
- Recently we shared out a new initiative preventing some U.S. guests under the age of 25 from booking entire home listings in their local area unless they have a history of positive reviews.
- We do not allow hosts to authorize parties and events in regions where current public health mandates prohibit events and gatherings.
- Temporarily removed the "parties and events allowed” rule from the House Rules of any San Diego listings that formerly authorized parties.
- Alongside the party house ban, Airbnb announced a 24/7 Neighborhood Support Hotline in 2019 in the United States, where neighbors can call us anytime and reach a real person at Airbnb. The hotline is staffed with a rapid response team so that neighbors can reach us directly with their concerns.