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Techies are still living in tiny pods in downtown San Francisco. Are they legal?

image showing hotel with insert of capsule pods
A San Francisco 'pod residence' in Mint Plaza in the South of Market neighborhood went viral in September. Now, the city has set a hearing about possible permit violations. | Source: Courtesy Christian Lewis

A Downtown San Francisco building being investigated for housing techies in illegal $700-a-month sleeping pods is still operating, according to residents at the property.

Brownstone Shared Housing, the firm managing the development at 12 Mint Plaza, opened the property in June 2023. In September, the city’s Department of Building Inspection opened up an investigation into whether the developers had the proper permits to build the pods—a process that is still ongoing.

When The Standard visited 12 Mint Plaza on Jan. 13, residents—who declined to go on the record for fear of retaliation for speaking to the press—said that people are still living in the pods.

“Yes, people are still living here,” one resident said.

Security at Mint Plaza referred all questions to Brownstone, who was contacted multiple times for comment. 

The owner of the property is Kansas-based Elsey Partners, a developer who previously submitted plans to develop an eight-story pod-style hotel on the property.

A Standard report found that the three-story structure at 12 Mint Plaza features approximately 20 pods on its top floor. The pods are currently occupied by a diverse mix of residents, including AI company founders, technologists, artists and retail workers. The remaining two floors of the property consist of common areas, a kitchen without a stove or oven and a bathroom on each floor.

The monthly rent for a pod is $700, a fee that covers internet and utilities. The San Francisco property is listed on the Brownstone website as still in operation, but there is no way to apply to live in the unit online. (Other Brownstone pod units in Palo Alto and Bakersfield are still available to rent.) 

According to Department of Building Inspection spokesperson Patrick Hannan, Brownstone has changed the locks to allow people to exit without a key. But the company has yet to obtain permits to legalize the installation of the sleeping pods or the shower stalls.

Brownstone now appears to be offloading the pods so that more developments similar to 12 Mint Plaza can be built. Currently, a bunk bed-style pod wholesale runs for “the special price” of $2,999. A pair of pods previously cost $5,000.

According to permit records, Brownstone still has yet to file any permits to comply with a notice of violation first issued in October. A director’s hearing—which is usually held when a property owner has “not demonstrated a good faith effort to fix a building or housing code violation”—is scheduled for Feb. 6.

Joel Umanzor can be reached at jumanzor@sfstandard.com