Soon after Darren and Valerie Lee bought a building on Clay Street in 2004, they moved to evict tenants using the Ellis Act.
The state law is intended to help landlords get out of the rental business, but the Lees did not do that, according the City Attorney’s Office. Instead, they rented one unit — advertised since 2009 as an “exquisitely renovated home in prime Pacific Heights” — on two short-term rental websites for about $400 to nearly $600 a night.
Now the Lees, along with others accused of doing much the same, are being sued by San Francisco as part of a crackdown on landlords who illegally use short-term rental websites like Airbnb to make big profits.
“In the midst of a housing crisis of historic proportions, illegal short-term rental conversions of our scarce residential housing stock risks becoming a major contributing factor,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement.
The civil cases filed Wednesday target “egregious offenders” who flouted “state and local law to conduct their illegal businesses.”
The other defendants are Lev, Tamara and Tatyana Yurovsky, who evicted one disabled longtime tenant using the Ellis Act at 734 Bay St. and then rented the unit illegally to tourists.
In 2010, the trio advertised 734 Bay St. and a unit at 790 Bay St. on Airbnb.com and a now-defunct rental site, boasting online that they had hosted “several hundred tourists.”
In the Lees’ case, one evicted tenant was disabled and had lived in their unit for a decade, paying $1,087 a month. Planning Department records in the filing also show that the Lees were fined for the illegal use of their building but continued to rent out the unit anyway.
Neither the Lees nor the Yurovskys could be reached for comment Wednesday.
These cases, according to Herrera, are the first among several housing-related matters under investigation.
“We intend to crack down hard on unlawful conduct that’s exacerbating — and in many cases profiting from — San Francisco’s alarming lack of affordable housing,” he said.
For its part, Airbnb backs the lawsuit.
“Airbnb is committed to making cities stronger and more affordable, and the vast majority of our hosts do just that,” the company said in a statement. “If a small number of predatory landlords are abusing platforms like ours to illegally evict tenants in search of a quick buck, we wholeheartedly support efforts to bring those landlords to justice and applaud the city attorney for his actions. We have investigated and this user will be immediately and permanently removed from Airbnb.”
Along with Airbnb, the defendants also used VRBO.com and homeaway.com, both of which could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and greatsfvacation.com.