Herrera sues scofflaw developer for unpermitted construction work

Real estate developer and investor Ashok Gujral consistently flouted the law by doing construction work without permits or far beyond the scope of issued permits

The before and after shots of 4068 Folsom St. Although the defendant claimed he would be doing simple construction, the photos illustrate the major renovations at the property done without permits.

SAN FRANCISCO (June 21, 2018) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today filed a lawsuit against real estate developer and investor Ashok Gujral for routinely flouting the law by doing unpermitted construction work on seven residential properties in San Francisco.
 
Gujral would seek permits for simple and uncomplicated construction at each property, only to later conduct major renovations that were far beyond the scope of the permits issued. The lawsuit filed today in San Francisco Superior Court alleges Gujral violated San Francisco building and planning codes, engaged in unlawful business practices, violated state housing law and created a public nuisance.
 
Between June 2015 and September 2016, Gujral purchased seven residential properties in San Francisco. Shortly after purchase, Gujral followed a similar approach with each. First, he would seek permits for what he claimed would be simple construction, like interior remodeling or removing plumbing and electrical fixtures. The permits were issued quickly without additional review by other City departments. Gujral would then do major renovations at each property that went well beyond what was represented in the permit applications. By doing this, Gujral evaded proper City oversight and applicable permit fees while unlawfully bulking up homes to apparently flip them for a higher profit.
 
“If you get a permit to remodel your kitchen, it doesn’t mean you get to build a new wing onto the back of your house,” Herrera said. “Real estate scofflaws trying to make a quick buck by flouting the law increase safety risks, endanger the character of our neighborhoods and cheat honest developers by creating an uneven playing field. Let this be a warning to those who think they can ignore the rules while flipping as many homes as they can. The City is not going to tolerate people trying to game the system as they look to profit off of San Francisco’s housing crisis.”
 
The final changes made to the properties were substantial. Some of the work included the unpermitted additions to buildings, demolition of a historic façade and foundation work that threatened neighboring properties.  
 
For example, at 1613 Church St., Gujral obtained permits to remodel the interior of the home but instead substantially expanded the building, adding both vertical and horizontal additions and constructing interior stairs from the ground floor all the way to a roof deck.
 
At 4068 Folsom St., Gujral expanded the building’s envelope, built a new rear deck on the second floor, a new patio in the year yard, new walls and fences at the property line, and a new building façade, all without permits.
 
At 903 Minnesota St., Gujral, without a permit, removed the front façade of a home that is listed as a historic resource within the Dogpatch Landmark District. At 120 Brewster St., Gujral took a two-unit building and converted it into a single home without approval, shrinking the housing supply. 
 
Only after being caught and cited by the City did Gujral file permit applications attempting to legalize what had already been illegally done. Even then, he failed to timely provide all the required documents and information to complete the permit application and review process, further delaying the issuance of the permits.
 
The properties at issue are:

  • 531 33rd Ave., San Francisco, California 94121
  • 120 Brewster St., San Francisco, California 94110
  • 1613 Church St., San Francisco, California 94131
  • 437 Ellsworth St., San Francisco, California 94110
  • 4068 Folsom St., San Francisco, California 94110
  • 903 Minnesota St., San Francisco, California 94107
  • 310 Montcalm St., San Francisco, California 94110

The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring strict court oversight of Gujral to ensure that he brings all of his properties into compliance with the law. The City also seeks civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each act of unfair and unlawful business competition; daily penalties of up to $500 for each violation of the San Francisco Building Code; and daily penalties of at least $200 for each violation of the San Francisco Planning Code committed at each of the properties. Combined, the penalties could be many hundreds of thousands of dollars.
 
“We’re seeking a steep penalty to ensure that cheating the system isn’t worth it for unscrupulous developers,” Herrera said. “If you think gaming the system will just be part of the cost of doing business, think again. I want to thank the Planning Department in particular for their diligent work that laid the foundation for this case.”  
 
Today’s case is: City and County of San Francisco v. Ashok Gujral et al., San Francisco Superior Court, CGC-18-567479, filed June 21, 2018. Additional documentation from the case is available on the City Attorney’s website at: www.sfcityattorney.org

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