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Rent a bunk bed for $1,200 a month? Only in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO — There are cities where $1,200 a month will buy you a bedroom with a door. In San Francisco, it gets you a bunk bed.

That’s PodShare — the latest housing hack born from the state’s shortage of affordable homes. The Los Angeles-based startup recently opened its first Bay Area location in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood and already is causing a stir among community members and city officials, who are investigating the company.

“We believe that you only really need a small space to yourself to sleep, relax and store your belongings. The rest of our space…is shared,” the company’s website explains. PodShare already operates five Southern California bunk bed communities.

But a city official said the PodShare business model appears to violate San Francisco’s short-term rental and occupancy rules, and the city has received multiple complaints about the startup. PodShare already has tweaked its plans at the city’s behest, but will need to do more before it is fully compliant. In the meantime, the city has yet to order the company to cease operations.

PodShare renters sleep stacked in custom bunk beds set up in one large room, with no doors between them. Each unpainted, wooden bed, or “pod,” includes a personal television, nightlight, outlets and storage space, and renters share a communal kitchen and lounge space. For those digs, the PodShare website says a renter pays $60 a night, $350 a week or $1,500 a month. But founder Elvina Beck, who didn’t respond to messages from this news organization, told Curbed SF that the monthly price is actually $1,200.

Beck told Curbed SF that PodShare is a way for renters to try out a neighborhood before agreeing to a long-term lease.

PodShare represents one choice among many in the housing market, she told the news outlet, adding, “This is how we choose to live.”

So far, there are three reviews of the San Francisco PodShare property on Airbnb. One complained the shower was cold and there was residue on the towels, but another reviewer called it “perfect for my minimalist needs.”

The unique, hostel-like setup is making its Bay Area debut at a time when a shortage of available homes here has driven rent prices to staggering heights and forced many residents to either move out or seek creative, and sometimes desperate, solutions. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco was $2,470 last month, according to Apartment List. As a result, co-living has become an increasingly population option for renters hoping to cut costs. The San Jose City Council earlier this year voted to allow co-living spaces, prompted by Starcity, which plans to build an 800-unit building in downtown San Jose where residents will sleep in small bedrooms and share common space. Starcity already operates a handful of co-living communities in San Francisco.

Even in co-living housing models, residents typically have their own private bedroom with a door — not bunk beds shared with strangers. But it’s not the bunk beds that are giving San Francisco officials pause. The city learned about PodShare’s new San Francisco house at the end of last month, when several community members filed complaints. The first problem was that the startup offered beds for $60 a night — a violation of the city’s short-term rental policy, which bans rentals of fewer than 30 days unless the landlord lives in the home (which Beck doesn’t appear to, according to Omar Masry, senior analyst with San Francisco’s Office of Short Term Rentals).

Masry told Beck about the violation, and she agreed to cancel pending short-term reservations and change her Airbnb listing, he said. Now the San Francisco PodShare listing on Airbnb specifies that stays must be for 30 days or more.

That’s not the end of PodShare’s problems. The startup doesn’t have permission from the city to operate group housing, Masry said. But unlike in some areas of San Francisco, PodShare’s neighborhood is zoned to allow group housing, meaning Beck could potentially apply for that designation.

“There’s a possible path to legalize either all or some of her business model,” Masry said.

To do that, Beck also would need to comply with the city’s building and fire codes — particularly making sure there was a safe way for occupants to exit in the event of an emergency.

“It seems like she kind of jumped the gun,” Masry said.

The city’s building department is set to inspect the property Friday.

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