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Troubled San Francisco contractor flagged by city for repeated illegal building

Buildings under construction in an illustration with construction equipment.
San Francisco's Department of Building Inspection oversees building permits in San Francisco. | Source: Illustration by Lu Chen/The Standard

For only the second time, San Francisco has flagged a contractor for repeatedly violating building codes meant to preserve safe conditions for residents and neighbors, according to records. 

Until Dec. 26, 2023, there was only one name on the city’s list of repeat offenders—Rodrigo Santos, a permit expediter and structural engineer who pleaded guilty to federal charges in January 2023 in relation to a scheme he was involved in that helped his clients receive lenient inspections on their projects. 

Tad Van Nguyen is the newest name on the Department of Building Inspection’s expanded compliance list due to four serious violations within a year. Those violations occurred on four projects his construction company worked on in 2022 and 2023. 

“The addition of Mr. Nguyen demonstrates that we are applying the Expanded Compliance control criteria as set forth in the building code, and we believe the extra level of scrutiny applied to these individuals is helpful in maintaining a safe built environment,” Department of Building Inspection spokesman Patrick Hannan said.

In 2021, San Francisco passed legislation to track and flag significant violations by developers, contractors and engineers who repeatedly break city permitting rules.

The law, which directs the city building inspection department to notify state regulators of violations and tasks senior inspectors to review complaints, was a reaction to a corruption scandal that involved the scheme by Santos, who had his clients donate to specific entities in exchange for favorable inspections by a city inspector. 

Santos pleaded guilty to bank fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion charges in three separate cases stemming from the checks he misappropriated and the donations he asked his clients to make to a youth sports charity favored by Bernie Curran, who was at the time a senior building inspector.

Curran was one of three inspectors allegedly bribed by prominent San Francisco developer Sia Tahbazof, who was charged by federal authorities in November.

A man walks with two woman on the street.
Rodrigo Santos walks out of court after his sentencing in San Francisco on Aug. 25, 2023. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Building inspection spokesperson Hannan said that the fact that only two names have appeared on the list is a testament to the vast number of building projects in the city are aboveboard.

But even without citing other troubling issues with city inspections, such as a recently fired and charged department inspector who reviewed construction on his own home, Nguyen’s case may indicate the system is not catching all construction scofflaws the way it is supposed to.

Nguyen’s track record is littered with incomplete construction projects, unsafe working conditions and numerous lawsuits, according to court records and former colleagues.

For his part, Nguyen denied that he had done work without permits.

“I don't know why they put me on the list,” he said. “We filed a permit and got everything approved. This is nonsense stuff.” 

Nguyen did not respond to questions about a number of other issues his company has been involved with in the past. 

The recent projects that Nguyen was flagged for are related to work his company did at four addresses in 2022 and 2023. 

At 1237 Shafter Ave. in Hunters Point, his company did demolition beyond the scope of the approved plans in 2022, according to city inspection department records. Next door at 1239 Shafter, his company also did soil excavation beyond the allowed permits, which resulted in undermining the neighbor’s footing. 

The two properties are owned by Amanda Reid, who did not respond to a request for comment. But early last year, Nguyen filed a mechanic lien on Reid’s property for failure to pay his company for the work it did, according to court documents. 

A house faces the street and construction debris lies on the sidewalk.
Tad Van Nguyễn did illegal work at 1237 Shafter Ave. in Hunters Point. | Source: Google Maps screenshot

Another nearby project flagged in 2022 was 1600 Thomas Ave., where Nguyen demolished a deck and stairway and rebuilt another one far beyond the allowed permitting. He also built a new and higher fence along a public right of way that exceeded the permitted project. 

Thomas and Anna Jordan, who own the 1600 Thomas Ave. property, could not be reached for comment. 

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Nguyen in 2022 at 1600 Thomas Ave. for health and safety violations related to unsafe scaffolding, failure to provide protection for overheating and Covid prevention, among other violations. 

He was fined more than $14,000 for 11 violations, all of which he has contested. 

At 352 Head St. in Ingleside Heights, Nguyen completed internal walling without inspection or permitting in 2023, city records state. 

The LLC that owns the property has a registered address that is the same as Nguyen’s San Francisco home address. 

A home on a street.
Nguyen completed internal walling without inspection or permitting at 350 Head St. | Source: Google Maps screenshot

The recent violations are only the latest controversies Nguyen has faced as a contractor in San Francisco. 

In 2014, the Department of Industrial Relations sued him for nearly $12,000 in fines related to unsafe ladders and scaffolding on a Geary Boulevard project.

That same year, the state’s Contractors State License Board also cited Nguyen for work done at his 1440 Clement St. property without workers compensation insurance, according to court documents. Nguyen was fined $3,500, and his license was briefly suspended for the violation. 

Numerous complaints arose from the work being done on the property, some of which were also without permits, according to city records. 

Chris Tuong, who is also in litigation with Nguyen, said in 2009 the contractor did work at 127 Milton St. that was substandard and did not meet engineering rules. According to city records, the work was being done without a permit, and a stop order was issued. 

Tuong said that when the engineer, Stephen Chan, refused to sign off on the work, Nguyen threatened him. 

“Tad took off his jacket and [got] in position to attack Steve,” Tuong said. “I was there because I’m thinking to protect Stephen, because Tad is too violent.”

Nguyen never completed the work, Tuong said. He had to hire another contractor. 

More recently, Nguyen sued Chan for not doing engineering work on one of the projects Nguyen was cited for: 352 Head St. 

“I didn’t do any work for him,” Chan said, adding that Nguyen was trying to get him to do engineering work for free.

According to court records, Nguyen lost the lawsuit.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at jonah@sfstandard.com