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'Pod house' found in violation of several city building codes

Original post made on Sep 22, 2022

A Palo Alto home that's been touted as a model for affordable shared housing because it's been renovated with 14 small sleeping "pods" has been cited for multiple code violations, according to city of Palo Alto documents.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, September 22, 2022, 7:17 AM

Comments (43)

Posted by Wei Zhao
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 22, 2022 at 9:52 am

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Very unpleasant way to live & sleep...cramped in bunk beds with no privacy and a limited number of bathrooms.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 22, 2022 at 10:07 am

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No mention of whether the illegal garage conversion will be addressed. It sounds from the story as if the only two choices are to return it to its original (unconverted) condition or to do a proper permitted renovation to bring the garage living space up to standards. Either will likely take at least 6 months to a year with lots of noise probably not to the liking of the current tenants.

The Brownstone Housing folks sound like their hearts are in the right place and that likely this situation stems from their inexperience in leasing/building codes. I hope they persevere.

Posted by Julian Gómez
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 22, 2022 at 10:31 am

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Fire hazard wiring. Blocked exits.
That's not "hearts are in the right place", that's hearts focused on $$.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 22, 2022 at 10:37 am

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Maybe you're right - rereading, I noticed this: "smoke and carbon monoxide detectors needing battery replacements, among other findings".

Posted by Reid
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 22, 2022 at 10:54 am

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I hope the city works with Brownstone to address the compliance issues and preserve this alternative form of housing. While this form of housing isn't for me in my phase of life and maybe you feel the same way, there is clearly demand for this type of housing. Insisting on less cramped space for everyone has the effect of making everything more expensive for us all by forcing students and service workers to commute from further away. Unpermitted garage conversions are also not uncommon in owner-occupied single family homes, and this feels like differential spot code enforcement due to media coverage.

Posted by toransu
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 22, 2022 at 11:27 am

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God forbid we build some studio apartments in this town...

Posted by Jesse Waltham
a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 22, 2022 at 11:32 am

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> While this form of housing isn't for me in my phase of life and maybe you feel the same way, there is clearly demand for this type of housing.

This type of housing is best suited for Millennial and Gen Z residents who are better geared towards residing in a 'Big Brother' form of living arrangement.

It is an extension of college dorm living and perhaps all they will ever know or appreciate.

Posted by Peter
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 22, 2022 at 11:40 am

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After they perform the detector/wiring upgrades, I hope for the best for Brownstone and the housing model they’re providing…our community needs clean safe housing at many different price points to remain vibrant.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2022 at 1:21 pm

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When this was first in the news I wondered about all these issues since it was supposedly going to be one of many.

No mention of parking issues. I wonder how many of the 13 living there park cars on the street?

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 22, 2022 at 2:00 pm

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It doesn't matter what the "lessee" states, the OWNER is responsible for the unpermitted changes to the building. As for thirteen people sharing one toilet, the ICK factor is huge. Or maybe there are port-a-potties in the back yard? This kind of housing is greed on steroids, and not for the faint of heart. These are not "studios", it's one house with bunkbeds in the living room. Doesn't matter if they "rent" them for minimum of 30 days. If a tenant leaves after 2 weeks, they forfeit their deposit and overpaid rent. I'm sure they don't keep the bunkbed empty for long after someone realizes what they got into and wants out. There's another desperado in the wings, waiting to get fleeced. This article is just the preamble to City Codes that will eventually (I hope) outlaw this kind of overcrowding. And during a heat wave, imagine the stench of too many people living too closely together, with all their fans turned toward their faces waiting for the wiring to start a fire. Do we really need to allow the replication of the outcome of the Ghost Ship in Oakland? Web Link btw @bystander, the founders of this monstrosity said everybody would be using bikes. Not a requirement, that's just what they said to appease the neighbors who would suddenly have to be competing for parking with tenants at a glorified motel.

Posted by Jon Castor
a resident of Woodside
on Sep 22, 2022 at 2:54 pm

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I 110% agree that safety violations need to be corrected. And as Peter said in his post, after they are I hope this project will be successful. In California we have the highest building costs in the country and possibly even in the world. Innovative approaches that provide housing at a lower cost per unit are desperately needed! Living college dorm style may not be for you, but sometimes it beats the hell out of the alternatives. And somehow many of us managed to get by just fine for four or more years of dorm style living. Maybe these folks are on to something.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 22, 2022 at 5:59 pm

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Everybody who's advocating this type of "dorm style" (actually they are the equivalent of overcrowded slums, which is why it's not allowed in New York. It's inhumane and this won''t be the first time we hear about this, until it's shut down. For all of those who are "pro-disaster-waiting-to-happen" I double dog dare you to move in with 12 strangers and stay there for a month, and report back about your experience.

Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 22, 2022 at 6:16 pm

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In college, I lived in a tiny single dorm room that was FAR more luxurious than this. And it had a two-person shared toilet with two basins and a shower. Even prison cells are more luxurious than this. And PA wants this and to charge $800 per month? What a PROGRESSIVE KROCK!

Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 22, 2022 at 6:20 pm

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The owner and lessee should be sued and run out of town. This is another "ghost ship" incident waiting to happen. Greedy owner looks the other way while lessee breaks every safety code in the book creating a dangerous situation for tenants and neighbors. This SHOULD NOT exist in Palo Alto.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 22, 2022 at 9:49 pm

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I agree with the above. Slave Cabin Moderne comes to PA.

Posted by Heckity
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 22, 2022 at 11:36 pm

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“This SHOULD NOT exist in Palo Alto.” Where is it ok to exist?

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Sep 23, 2022 at 7:24 am

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This is greed, and the owners obviously couldn't care less about all the code violations. If this was 4 tenants or less, it would be a win-win situation. No first and last deposit, etc. The greedy owner wanted to maximize profits, didn't care about code and put all the tenants (and neighbors) in danger. Fires happen, and the ghost ship is a good analogy. Unbelievable.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 23, 2022 at 10:07 am

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@Reid The story indicates it was neighbors reporting possible violations, so unlikely to be unfair spot enforcement. In any case, aren't un-permitted garage conversions likely to be among the most dangerous un-permitted changes, as space with active hazards is converted to living space?

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 23, 2022 at 10:16 am

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I'm waiting for "Brownstone Shared Housing co-founders Christina Lennox, top, and James Stallworth" to show up here. I'd like to know if they live in this rathole they are renting out, and if they could finally quit working for a living after learning how to rent-gouge low-wage earners.

I'm also curious to know if their subletters have to sign a disclaimer that prevents them from filing a lawsuit for the undisclosed aspects of "co-housing" that they won't find out about until adverse effects present themselves. Like stifling heat. That was an unknown -- the freaky heat wave that passed through.

As for "We do not allow stays less than 30 days" -- how do they enforce that? Chain a tenant to the frame of the bed? I wonder how many people fled for their lives, rather than smother in their sleep or wait to be awakened by flames from an electrical fire? I feel a lawsuit coming on, as Bob Dylan sang.

Posted by Jerry
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 23, 2022 at 12:28 pm

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Maybe the owners could just have people sleep in their cars in the driveway. That seems just about as comfortable. From the photo, it looks like there's space for, oh... 4 cars? It's highly encouraged in other parts of town.

Posted by Sharon Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 23, 2022 at 12:48 pm

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This form of living arrangement would be suitable for homeless individuals.

Posted by Amie
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 23, 2022 at 1:50 pm

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Because what we need are 13 more people living in their cars outside your house.......which is exactly what is going to happen to these folks.

This is just sad. While greed may play a role (though honestly $800 sounds cheap), people paid the money so they didn't have to commute hours and hours, could spend time working or with friends, and could spend their money on other things rather than space they don't want, need, or use.

I agree, BUILD MORE SMALL UNIT HOUSING and don't judge those who don't need 4,000 square feet of closet space or dinning rooms. Most of Paris lives quite contentedly in a studio apartment.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 23, 2022 at 2:17 pm

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The same greedy people who are renting out the pods also rented out RVs for about the same price.

Posted by Jerry
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 23, 2022 at 2:38 pm

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It's fascinating to see that some of the same commenters here who think this Pod House idea should be run out of town were, just weeks ago, ravenously supportive of having people live in cars in church parking lots.

So people living out of their cars is okay but shared housing is somehow "inhumane"?

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 23, 2022 at 5:38 pm

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Amie these are not studios, they're bunk beds jammed into rooms unsuited for as many as they have. And I would gladly live in a studio in Paris. I am a minimalist by nature, and no, I don't need 4000 feet of closet space for my 3 pairs of shoes. 3 pairs is too many in my book, I'm debating which one I should give away because 2 of them I have never worn. That aside, if you throw in Paris with all of its elegance, ambience, culture and history I would live in a studio. But this is not Paris, it's Palo Alto. And those are bunkbeds, not studio apartments.

@Online Name -- please tell me they don't rent them for $800/mo and then tell them to sleep in the church parking lot at night.......

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 23, 2022 at 6:19 pm

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@MyFeelz, I can't comment on the church parking lots but there were several articles a few years ago profiling the folks living in the RVs and saying how their rents were so much cheaper than apartments and Stanford dorms. I remember they profiled a Stanford couple where the wife was an artist and the husband was the grad student. They also profiled a couple employed at one of the big tech companies.

Back then it was fashionable for the newspapers and magazines like Sunset to profile "the rv life" and "van living" which I remember because of how they glamorized the rv life and detailed all the money being saved, the freedom it them to spend money on what really mattered.

(They articles weren't about touring the US in rv's saving money on hotels but "lifestyle" articles on profiling people in RVs on El Camino and elsewhere.. Some were construction workers working at Stanford who didn't want to spend a few hundred dollars a night on motels and went home on the weekends. Others were families of patients at Stanford Hospital undergoing long-term treatment for whom motels were also cost-prohibitive.)

Posted by Vance Landrum
a resident of another community
on Sep 24, 2022 at 9:02 am

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Like home dwellers and their respective neighborhoods of residency, RV dwellers also vary in terms of their vehicles and where they park. For some it is a lifestyle, while for others it is a necessity or both.

It is one thing to own a Mercedes Sprinter with all of the amenities VS an rundown Dodge Tradesman van with a sleeping bag tossed in the back.

My son owns a Sprinter and this certainly beats pod living as a luxurious van affords mobility, privacy, and convenience. He is a surf/ski bum and travels wherever he wants both in style and comfort.

As for parking, he will ask a homeowner for permission with an agreement of departure within 2-3 days. This concept has worked well and he has made many new friends and acquaintances throughout the country exercising this basic courtesy.

A stock Mercedes Sprinter runs about $40K and can be easily customized to one's taste depending on pocketbook.

Those residing in pods and/or living in 'Big Brother' type housing arrangements might consider doing the same as it certainly beats paying rent for substandard living conditions.

With decent credit and a viable profession (my son is an electrician) anyone can pursue this option as the key to living as a mobile transient is not to look like the stereotypical ones.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 24, 2022 at 10:00 am

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Yes, the RV dwellers vary considerably. That was my point.

But I get VERY tired of the screeds directed at people who did nothing to cause the problems while ignoring that, among other factors, companies like Uber/Lyft/DoorDash abd the business lobbying groups spend literally hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying to deny their workers benefits like health and unemployment insurance and that big ever-growing institutions like Stanford do nothing to house the construction workers expanding their campus and the families of patients visiting their constantly expanding hospital.

Just as Vance's son above asks permission to park in front of homes, Stanford patients' families are on NextDoor constantly begging for the same thing.

Remember Stanford just removed 759 Oak Creek housing units near the Medical Center from the temporary housing stock to house their growing "community" while negotiating for more tax breaks and that businesses refused to pay their fair share.

Stop blaming PEOPLE and look at the root causes.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 24, 2022 at 11:40 am

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@OnlineName, all of the RV resorts, campgrounds and other places that had necessary amenities (mainly, a place to legally dump their sewage) caught on to how much saving a "Full-Timer" was banking by choosing that lifestyle. So the fees have now out-priced most retirees and now they, too, are going driveway to driveway looking for a safe haven. As for dump stations, not many exist locally. Plus a rig has to move for the day to get to and fro to dump their waste.

In the late 2010's I took a year to tour around the country, and all of Canada, in a vehicle that was NOT self contained (meaning no toilet). It was easier for me to find a gas station than it is for an RV to find a dump station. And @Vance, whether you're in a $40k Mercedes Sprinter or a $3000 circa 1980's Dolphin, "where to dump" is a critical factor. There are composting toilets and such but living inside a small room with a composting toilet is not where my nose wants to live.

The root causes of our housing shortage is partly based in building supplies being unavailable. We have depleted our natural resources and now have to look for supplies in other countries, and most of the countries with the most resources are now soured on us after COVID and the Ukraine dustup. There are buildings going up now that I can see from the frame to the finishing touches and I see very little insulation which impacts what one would expect after paying outrageous rents, and I wonder if they meet earthquake standards. "We shall know someday" is not good urban planning. Another factor is the declining population. Nobody's going to build more housing when the baby boomers are about to expire. If more housing is built to accommodate our current population there will be a housing glut later -- and nobody wants to LOWER prices due to too much housing stock. So these are the real root causes and they have nothing to do with social factors.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2022 at 1:03 pm

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One thing about housing that is not mentioned is the fact that many households are now one adult households basically by choice. The family unit is no longer two adults with children, but often one adult with children and the second adult is living alone but not far away. This can be a problem as the parent with only weekend visitation still needs to have enough space for the kids to sleep or they lose their overnight custody.

This type of living arrangements, and similar situations, mean that a family home for the same sibling children may actually be two separate homes where each parent lives. In Palo Alto, PAUSD rules stipulate that both parents must live in Palo Alto 24/7 to allow for residential compliance in PAUSD. (where the children would go to school is never actually mentioned in this rule).

With more and more adults with or without kids choosing to live alone, it brings up the need for more housing units. An old proverb says that two can live together as cheaply as one, but that is now something people are choosing not to do so the single adults are paying as much to live alone as previously a couple living together would pay. Something worth thinking about. The economics of singleness means that you cannot share living expenses and have to pay not only all the rent, but all the utilities out of a single payslip.

Posted by Kerry Campbell
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 24, 2022 at 2:03 pm

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If the primary concern regarding transient RVs is the safe disposal of human wastes, it can be easily resolved via city-mandated dump sites or in a worst case scenario, by disposing the wastes in public toilets at gas stations, libraries, coffee shops, and grocery stores.

I recall frequenting a Mexican restaurant in Mountain View where homeless men would occasionally come in and use the restrooms to bathe themselves. The restaurant owners kindly accommodated them as did the MV public library.

If the safe disposal of hyperdermic needles can be accommodated, the proper disposal of poop should be easy.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 24, 2022 at 7:44 pm

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Kerry, public facilities are inappropriate dumping sites. First, there's the issue of a hose. Think of it as very similar to the expandable hose you run from your dryer through a hole outside of the laundry room. The amount of waste that needs disposing is not the equivalent of one person, using it one time. Feces also carry bacteria that, if somebody makes an "oops" trying to run their pipe down a public toilet, it could create a hazmat situation. It's one thing to be allowed to wash up in a public restroom. An entirely different scenario trying to propose carrying a turd tank into a ... let's say a McDonald's rest room.

Posted by TimR
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2022 at 1:33 pm

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Reminds me of that "Ghost Ship" tragedy in Oakland a few years back. Remember that one? Code violations and people packed in like sardines sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Posted by ndn
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2022 at 3:24 pm

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Yes Jerry,
sleeping in your car in a well lit and protected parking lot is safer than this arrangement, because this arrangement is extremely unsafe and a "ghost ship" disaster just waiting to happen. Also fire may cause nearby buildings to be affected. And then what? then the city, who knowingly permitted this arrangement to continue will be charging all of us indirectly the price of the settlement with next-of-kin. And people will die and/or get hurt. Brownstone Housing owners? 9 years in prison is what Almena got but the owners of the building "escaped" criminal prosecution (DA claims statute expiration).

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2022 at 9:03 am

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There may not be materials for housing construction on the needed scale. What there is not a shortage of are “ghost homes”, Mattress Firms and Mancini Sleep World’s on El Camino Real. Nor is there a shortage of IKEA’s furnishing warehouses or Home Depot’s. What there is plenty of is capitalistic greed on massive steroids. A nine hundred dollar a month rent for a 30 day stay on a mattress? How much for a crisis cot?

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 29, 2022 at 1:14 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Native, crisis cots are on sale at Big Lots for $139. But too bulky to use on the streets where the residents will end up eventually. A better purchase is a therma-rest camping pad. Inflatable, and rolls up for easy carrying.

Also, Oakland City Council was sued successfully and had to pay out a big sum to settle the case. That's right, the City Council. Here's the quote about it: "In July 2020, the City of Oakland settled a civil lawsuit for the victims and agreed to pay a total of $33 million; $9 million to one person who survived with lifelong injuries, and $24 million to the families of the 36 who perished in the fire."

In the lamest hindsight observation ever uttered, "Oakland City Council member Noel Gallo said that city officials "need to enforce the codes that we have" and that "we should have been more assertive in the past." And all it took to get their attention was somebody making them fork out $33 million to take ownership of their part of that disaster.

So, uh, yeah. Cities have a responsibility for failure to enforce the codes they write. As we are learning recently with landlord/tenant codes, they are worthless without proper enforcement. So it will literally take a disaster at an overcrowded rental to get CC's attention. And that's tragic.

Brownstone, I hope, is looking for a new income source, besides fleecing low-wage earners who have very few options for housing.

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2022 at 3:56 pm

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@MyFeelz the Dec 2016 Ghost Ship tragedy was the omen to the reverberating shock wave Cali was rocking from after November T Realtor Inc / Law Firm gratis was election. A death-knell to where our Beloved? Cali and BayArea was headed. Then the dam for reals cracked. Cots, cribs, or crypts the mercilessness of those walking talking whining or winning. The "I" have something greed to the "we" have nothings, is beyond the scope of any walking, talking human. Big excuse. "it's the silicon in my coffee's fault". Not a county resident in this virtual valley escape the "wrath of the WWW whippings of the power brokers" although both syllogisms conjure extreme mendacity at every corner, curb, cafe and polished granite counter top (if that's even a design thing anymore). Down and out living on silicon's ether. The smell alone... And our CC "directs" staff to what? Its been rank... and file ever since. With a wee Pandemic thrown in the laps of CC for a "log test". Fail.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 29, 2022 at 7:14 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Egad! @Native, I have not heard nor read the term syllogism used properly in a sentence in decades. And to think I got to read it here, where ... here ... hear... the music is beginning to fade like an old windup toy that is winding down until at last the movement and music stop. We used to be "cutting edge" and "the state of the art" and now the State (and City Council) only want us for our tax dollars. Now we can't even figure out how to build apartments to house all of the hopeless. Whatever happened to genius and inspired creations!?! Did Zuckerberg abscond with the last dregs? HE looks like a BOT. If you gotta peg somebody for that, choose him! Ghost Ship was supposed to be cool but the mercenaries who Brookstone are modeled after were just in it for the $$$. There is nothing cool about paying way too much and losing first your privacy, then your dignity, and then your life, while pouring coffee for a living, going home at night to sleep in a firetrap. Let's build a guerilla housing project. Just start digging, while the wonks are sleeping. It could be done overnight. Shhh.

Posted by Leland J.
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 29, 2022 at 10:07 pm

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I’m sure all of you passing judgment on these message boards would gladly open your comfortable homes to people in need of shelter. Yeah right.

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 30, 2022 at 2:04 pm

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First (le)land a plenty and so little generosity to provide homes. I opened my 750 sqft "home" apt to a refugee from the CZU fire's mandatory evacuation. For ten days, I gladly hosted them on the only couch my children and I have a single "open" for a little more separate time we eek out and away from each other, even if we can still see we are present. Then, I got in big trouble from my landlord with a threat of a lease violation and worse, eviction for having an overnight guest too many days over the "legal" limit. Even during a crisis, emergency, natural disaster or man-made city power outages -- landlords can be so very cruel and stingy. @MyFeelz. I was bragging a bit about the syllogism. I just had to use what I had just tutored my child with for their English class. Thanks for the 2nd read! hehe. I give credit to the HS teacher for making creative writing vocab assessable to us, commoners.

Posted by PalyJim
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 2, 2022 at 10:25 am

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As many others have mentioned, this issue is much more than simply having 14 people living in a home originally intended for "4.5" residents. The by-products of this higher density are incompatible with the home's surroundings, from trash/waste concerns to utility use, especially water, vehicle parking, residential noise and congestion. There are reasons why high-density housing is not designed to resemble a single-family home neighborhood, which makes this experiment quite incomplete.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 2, 2022 at 4:07 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"I’m sure all of you passing judgment on these message boards would gladly open your comfortable homes to people in need of shelter. Yeah right. "

How about the company execs who spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying to deny gig workers basic benefits including unemployment do their fair share? Oh, silly me. They won't even pay a business tax that allots more than $3,000,000 to affordable housing. Tell me again how many housing units that equals?

Or the engineers who refused to drive deliveries for ONE single day so they could appreciate what their workers go through to enrich those lucky enough to have stock options? They must have comfortable houses, too. And big company parking lots in which to house a few rvs.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
10 hours ago

Annette is a registered user.

If PAFD inspected the home on July 29, why wasn't it immediately shut down until the critical safety violations were corrected? Two full months have now passed. Are all the violations remedied so that the occupants and neighbors are safe? If not, can't the City pull the occupancy permit?

As for the overall housing issue, one poster introduced the idea of Sprinter vans. And the problem of human waste management was raised. There are fairgrounds and other public lands all over California. And there are good examples of shared shower and bathroom facilities at campgrounds. What if CA used some of its huge budget surplus to buy ready-made housing (there are many different types including pre-fabbed small units, vans, rvs) and built some shared shower and bathroom facilities on available public land? Yeah, not perfect but it's a start that would at least give homeless people the shelter they need, some personal space, and the dignity of having an appropriate place for using a toilet, washing up, and showering. Permanent solutions are better, but those take time and much more money and other resources to achieve. Meanwhile, the problem grows and with it many related and expensive problems. This is an issue that cannot afford to wait for a perfect solution. Winter will be here in a few weeks.

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