City attorney takes action to shut down ‘COVID party’ rental

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SAN DIEGO — Neighbors say for more than a year, large parties at late hours have been forcing them to call police.

“We call it the party house,” Cheryl Hamilton said.

The house next door to Hamilton’s was bought by the current owner in December 2018. Within a few months, it was listed on Airbnb as a 5-bedroom vacation rental for $800 a night.

Neighbors say they called San Diego police at least 14 times over the next 16 months to report noise complaints, calling the rental a public nuisance.

The tipping point may have been when code enforcement tried to stop by.

According to a complaint released by City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office Friday, the code enforcement officer noticed part of the wall surrounding the property was too tall.

The officer went on to find a long list of additions made to the home without permits, including a pool, Jacuzzi and two new bedrooms.

When code enforcement tried to schedule appointments to stop by for an inspection, Elliott’s office says the property manager canceled twice.

One time they reportedly gave the excuse that the “vacation renters had extended their stay and because one of the occupants tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.”

Elliott’s office took legal action Friday, saying the property in Bankers Hill was the site of several “raucous parties” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The property is located at 2970 Second Ave. and dubbed “The Ashley” in an Airbnb listing.

The City Attorney’s Office says the home owner needs to shut down his listing immediately, citing more than 20 violations of state and local laws. If he doesn’t, he could face a fine of $2,500 a day.

Civil penalties and a permanent injunction against property owner David Contreras Curiel and property manager Alexander Mendez are being sought.

Airbnb issued a statement Friday saying it has since suspended the listing, as the alleged activities violate its policies.

“Airbnb policy expressly prohibits `party houses’ and we have suspended this listing as we investigate further,” the statement says. “We take these reports very seriously and stand ready to support local officials in their efforts to address this issue.”

The City Attorney’s Office said more than a dozen complaints were lodged by neighbors due to parties held at the rental, some of which occurred while COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings were in effect.

The rental was listed as a five-bedroom, four-bath house accommodating up to 12 guests for $930 per night, according to its Airbnb listing, which was removed by the company from its website Friday.

The City Attorney’s Office said Curiel operated the rental despite not paying required taxes and fees, and alleges the defendants refused to schedule property inspections with the city.

Building code violations alleged by the City Attorney include a number of modifications made to the property without permits, including converting a garage into a second dwelling with a full kitchen and bathroom, installing an in-ground pool, jacuzzi, gas line and firepit, constructing two additional bathrooms, installing interior lighting circuits, electrical outlets, an HVAC system and water heaters and more.

“From packing a party house during a pandemic to illegally renovating an entire property, the conduct of the defendants in this case is egregious and unacceptable,” San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott said. “No neighborhood should have to put up with such dangerous behavior.”

Airbnb said that per an updated policy amid the pandemic, hosts are not allowed to hold parties and events in regions where public health mandates prohibit events and gatherings. Violations of the policy could result in suspension or full removal from the platform, according to the company’s website.

Airbnb also said residents can use its Neighborhood Support Hotline to report issues with Airbnb staff at 855-635-7754.

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