2 Investigates: Ex-Owner of troubled hotel fined for illegal Airbnb listings

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San Francisco's Office of Short-Term Rentals has fined landlord Alice Tse tens of thousands of dollars as of Monday for illegally renting out properties on the home sharing site Airbnb. 

2 Investigates has been reporting issues at Tse’s Empyrean Towers hotel in downtown Oakland for more than two years. In 2014, KTVU cameras first uncovered faulty plumbing, broken walls and window and other deplorable conditions at the hotel on 13th Street. Tse was the then-owner.

After our reports, the city of Oakland sued Tse. She told officials she'd make about a half million dollars in repairs. Tse later filed for bankruptcy failing to make the upgrades. 


On Friday, San Francisco short term rental officials said Tse paid the city $28,000 for illegally listing a property on Clement Street in San Francisco on Airbnb. The unit had more than a half dozen rooms, according to a staff report. 

Neighbors told 2 Investigates they'd see travelers frequently access the building obtaining a key through a key lock attached to the front gate. They said travelers stopped coming after the city put Tse on notice in October 2016. 

On Monday, the office issued another notice of decision fining Tse an additional $14,000 for posting illegal Airbnb listings of a different location on Geary Street in San Francisco.

According to San Francisco municipal code, Airbnb hosts must register with its Office of Short Term Rentals, which staff said Tse failed to do when initially creating the listings. Also, the location must be the host's main place of residence.

Essentially, a person cannot convert a property into a so-called "Airbnb hotel."

"If people are turning homes into Airbnb hotels, what is going to happen to the City?" said neighbor Susan Vaughan. 

2 Investigates found multiple rooms in each dwelling were listed on Airbnb. They ranged from $61 to $155 per night. 

"They are taking away housing," said Vaughan. "It makes me feel like the law is not good enough. That the law needs to be tightened up. I mean [the illegal renters] could be endangering the neighborhood."

"When short term rentals are done inappropriately, units are taken off the market," said Kevin Guy, the director of the Office of Short-term Rentals for San Francisco. 

Guy told 2 Investigates fraudulent Airbnb listings are one of the contributors to the Bay Area's high housing costs. 

Airbnb confirmed with 2 Investigates that Tse has since taken down her Geary and Clement Street listings. 

When asked for comment, spokesman Airbnb Christopher Nulty provided the following statement:

"Bad actors like this have no place on our platform. The vast majority of our hosts are responsible San Franciscans sharing their primary residences and we are glad to see the City's current system working to address these rare cases. This host removed their listing from the platform following the City's enforcement action."

2 Investigates asked Airbnb what the company is specifically doing to address this type of abuse system-wide. The spokesperson replied via email, "In this case, the host removed the listing following the enforcement action by the City."

Airbnb did not provide a more detailed response. 

San Francisco housing officials said Airbnb did implement the One Host, One Home Program that aims to ensure hosts post listings for one address. Some city officials said it's not working and they want Airbnb to release more of its data. 

2 Investigates reached out to Tse's attorney Steve Whitworth but did not receive a response before the time of publication. At a hearing last Wednesday, Tse declined to speak to KTVU producers regarding the Empyrean Towers case. 

Written by 2 Investigates reporter Candice Nguyen