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San Francisco building inspector who inspected his own home gets fired, faces charges

An illustration showing building plans and a photo of building inspector Van Zeng and his home.
The San Francisco District Attorney's office has filed conflict of interest charges against former building inspector Van Zeng after The Standard's reporting. | Source: Illustration by Lu Chen/The Standard

A former San Francisco city building inspector who The Standard revealed had inspected his own home is now facing criminal charges for alleged conflict of interest violations, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins announced Tuesday.

Van Zeng, a former inspector with the Department of Building Inspection, is facing three misdemeanor charges for allegedly breaking a local law that prohibits city employees from participating in decisions in which they have a financial interest. Zeng was arraigned Tuesday and pleaded not guilty, the District Attorney’s Office said.

Zeng was put on administrative leave, fired and charged after an investigation by The Standard revealed that he had conducted a series of questionable inspections on properties with ties to his family.

RELATED: San Francisco Hired Him as a Building Inspector. Then He Inspected His Own Home

The Standard reported in November that Zeng conducted the inspection on his own home a month after joining the Department of Building Inspection in March 2020.

In the following two years, he conducted or signed off on another 19 inspections for three different properties owned by his mother and other investors, as well as on two permits sought by his father, a longtime contractor in the city, The Standard also found.

Zeng was charged for the inspection on his own home as well as the inspections on the two projects worked on by his father’s company, Mutual Seiko Construction. Prosecutors said Zeng worked for his father’s company until his hiring by the city, as The Standard previously reported.

“San Franciscans should expect our public employees to act with integrity and not engage in self-serving behavior,” Jenkins said in a statement. “My office is committed to rooting out employees who violate ethics laws and hold them accountable.”

Zeng was fired from the Department of Building Inspection in recent weeks and is contesting his termination, according to his attorney, Randall Knox.

Knox said Zeng was assigned the inspections on his own home and his father’s projects “at random” and talked to his supervisor, a senior building inspector, about the inspection on his own home, which occurred at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Since all they were going to do was shut down the work, he thought it was OK to do it,” Knox said.

Building inspection records show Zeng conducted a “rough frame, partial” inspection on his home, which was in the middle of a remodel. He found that the walls of the structure were “OK” on multiple floors and notified the contractor to stop work on the job site, records show.

Knox said the other two inspections, on projects in which his father was the contractor, were performed on “minor projects.” He said Zeng did not initially know his father was the contractor.

Patrick Hannan, a spokesperson for the Department of Building Inspection, confirmed that Zeng was dismissed on Dec. 8.

“The Department of Building Inspection has zero tolerance for ethical lapses and believes those failing to uphold their civic responsibilities should be held accountable for their actions,” Hannan said.

Zeng faces up to a year in jail if convicted, according to the DA's Office.

He is due back in court Feb. 23.

Michael Barba can be reached at mbarba@sfstandard.com