This four-unit structure on 22nd Street, co-owned by ex-planning commissioner Dennis Richards, has come under scrutiny from the Department of Building Inspection. Richards and his attorney said that's no coincidence. Photo by Joe Eskenazi

The Department of Building Inspection has taken the unusual step of revoking nine building permits on a 22nd Street structure partially owned by planning commissioner Dennis Richards — who, in turn, says he is being retaliated against for his criticism of “perceived corruption and unlawful favoritism” within the building department. 

At issue is a rebuild of 3426-32 22nd St., near Guerrero, a hulking, four-unit, 18-room, 4,200-square-foot Italianate-style building erected in 1899. It was purchased in June 2018 for $2.7 million by an LLC called “Six Dogs.” It is now listed for $7.5 million

Richards’ statement of economic interest he must file yearly with the city as an appointed commissioner reveals he owns more than $1 million in interest in Six Dogs, which, in turn, owns this parcel of San Francisco real estate. Richards confirmed to Mission Local that he is a part owner of the building and LLC, but not a majority owner. He declined to list his fellow partners — but did note that, between them, they do own six dogs.  

He referred all questions on the matter to his spokeswoman, Julie Edwards, and his attorney, Scott Emblidge. “The evidence is going to support our brief,” Richards said. 

That brief — “summary of grounds for appeal,” technically — was filed with the city’s Board of Appeals, where Six Dogs is, on Nov. 13, scheduled to argue against the revocation of its nine permits. 

A rebuttal attributed to Six Dogs and penned by Emblidge reads, “No lawful justification exists for the revocation of any of these permits, DBI has never used the remedy of permit revocation for minor violations like those alleged in this case, and the actions of [DBI personnel] were and are motivated by their desire to retaliate against members of Six Dogs LLC who have spoken out against perceived corruption and unlawful favoritism by employees of the Department of Building Inspection.” 

DBI spokesman Bill Strawn flatly denied any allegations of bias or wrongdoing. 

Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards and his co-owners say they are being targeted by DBI because they have spoken out against the department’s ‘perceived corruption and unlawful favoritism.‘ Photo by Lola M. Chavez.

“Nine total permits were issued to remodel the four-unit building, repair rear stairs, front facade and soft-story seismic work,” reads a DBI letter from director Tom Hui and chief building inspector Mauricio Hernandez to Six Dogs — which is housed at the Burlingame office of attorney Edward Singer. “However, a site visit has revealed that work exceeded the scope of the approved permits and plans for the above reference (sic) work contain inaccurate information.” 

That DBI letter was sent to Six Dogs on Sept. 30, the date when nine permits were revoked at Hernandez’s order. They have since been categorized as “suspended” pending next month’s Board of Appeal hearing. 

In late September, the DBI received a phone call from an undisclosed person alleging, among other complaints, “Developer falsified plans @ ground floor to show full basement. Permits undervalued … No permits for new garage doors …” 

Within days, the nine permits had been revoked. “Work exceeds scope of permit,” sums up the DBI “Notice of Violation.” Fines assessed against Six Dogs could exceed $315,000. 

Richards’ attorney Emblidge said his client is being singled out and treated with undue harshness. 

“Dennis Richards has always taken his role as a Planning Commissioner very seriously and has long asked hard questions about official actions taken by the Department of Building Inspection as well as other city agencies to ensure San Francisco residents are treated fairly,” reads a statement from Emblidge. 

“We do not feel the minor issues alleged by DBI justify revoking permits. We are very concerned about the timing of DBI’s actions, since they occurred shortly after Commissioner Richards questioned DBI’s work on other projects.  We are gathering evidence on why DBI took these actions, the history of similar actions and whether DBI took these actions in retaliation for Mr. Richards’ efforts to bring accountability to the Department.”

Emblidge said he was not at liberty at this time to disclose members of Six Dogs LLC, other than Richards. 

The property is being listed by The Agency, which describes it as “a trophy collection of residences, a masterful mix of sophistication, opulence, and luxury. These homes were thoughtfully reimagined to exceed even the most discerning buyer’s expectations, featuring designer finishes, zen functionality and innovative use of air, light, and space.”

If Six Dogs is unsuccessful at the Board of Appeals, it could next turn to Superior Court.

It is unclear how this situation will affect the planned sale of the property. 

Update, Oct. 22: Realtor Rachel Swann has confirmed to Mission Local that she is Richards’ partner in Six Dogs LLC (she owns four dogs, he owns two). Readers may recall her as the Realtor attempting to sell the cursed “Sunset Idea House” on 25th and Alabama.

Swann says she is looking forward to her appeal, which she says will provide “clarity” and “vindication.”

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. I’m a Noe Valley resident who opposed Rachel Swann’s CU application. Rachel had illegally converted a former retail space at 3848 24th street into a Professional service space for her boutique real estate firm The Agency. After 2 years of operating without approvals Rachel was caught by planning and forced to go through the Conditional Use process at the Planning Commission where her business partner commissioner Dennis Richards dominates the hearings on such cases. We had 20 letters of opposition going into the CU hearing on August 2018. This should not have been approved given the situation and the push back from local residents. No one wanted another high end Real estate firm pushed down our throats on this busy retail shopping corridor. Dennis Richards recused himself from the hearing due to his ongoing business relationship with Rachel Swann which is mind boggling in itself.
    Miraculously and sadly the CU was still unanimously approved. I’ll let you guys do the math on this.

  2. Sub-tenants have more or less the same rights as the master tenant in a rent controlled building built before June 1979 in San Francisco.
    All 4 buyouts would have been mandated to be recorded with the correct city agency.
    The main obvious problem here is that the buyers knew that the building was fully occupied with tenants and that they would be displaced during the process of the sale. Either through cash incentives or threat of eviction.
    For a normal ruthless developer I wouldn’t expect them to blink an eye.
    This is the leading commissioner Dennis Richards who seems to be notorious for dishing out harsh punishment for this exact behavior.
    I believe hypocrisy wouldn’t be sufficient enough word if this is all true.
    How is this even possible ! doesn’t the city have an ethics committee ?
    Surely the other commissioners would give Mr Richards a no confidence vote now this information has been made public !

  3. Ps: to previous. I see from the original listing “potential for 3 vacant” so am not sure if the vacancy of the 3 subleased units was coordinated by the previous seller prior to close or by the new buyer after close

    1. If this was the case, that would leave one unit occupied. I just checked the rent board and there is no buyout on file. This is a serious violation. Especially for a sitting planning commissioner. I was at the planning commission hearing on 8/29/19 (you can visit the website and view the recording). Commissioner Richards went ballistic on 42 Ord Court. The project had a buyout in place but wasn’t recorded with the rent board which is legally required. Mr Richards told the applicant for 42 Ord Court that they should have done their due diligence and known about the unrecorded buyout so Mr Richards voted to deny the project which was a significant remodel with expansions. He essentially said the applicant should not be allowed to have their project approved given their knowledge of a previous unrecorded buyout. This would have been an insane punitive damage to a homeowner. Richard Hillis came to 42 Ord courts rescue and the other commissioners voted to approve the project with minor modifications. It clearly states in the real estate listing that 3 of the 4 units could be vacated. How much more evidence do you need that something is seriously amiss here.
      This needs to be investigated.

  4. No evictions or buyouts on file at the rent board. Who was in charge of providing cash to tenants to vacate? Was it the commissioner or the agent Rachel Swann? Whom ever did it is in serious violation. If the agent did it, she should lose her license. Dennis needs to step down before this goes (more) sideways.

    1. I have a high degree confidence that the following is correct in terms of the rental history and may have been part of the disclosure documents at the time of the last sale. There was one tenant that had all 4 leases in his name. He subleased the other 3 units. Hence there was only 1 buyout. I suspect, because of the unusual rental situation, with the leaseholder not living in the units, the previous seller was able to deliver the building with 3 of 4 units vacant. The buyout on the one remaining unit should have been filed with the Rent Board by the Attorney representing the LLC as required by the law within 60 days of the buyout with the amount disclosed. This is public information so it should not be difficult to track down the date of the buyout and the date when the documents were filed by calling the Rent Board. I am not sure if they will provide the name of the leaseholder.

  5. So, just so I’m keeping up here, his sole business partner in the entire LLC is a luxury realtor? The LLC was set up by a real estate attorney, Edward C. Singer Jr., that practices in landlord’s rights cases and which “…protects landlords against retaliatory wrongful eviction actions.” per his bio? The building when sold last year for 2.7m might have been able to be delivered with 3 of the 4 units vacant per the listing? A year later it’s for sale, vacant, for 7.5m$? That all makes sense for a Commissioner to be involved in such a deal, as long as each tenant got $1,000,000.00! Oops, I forgot for a moment about the alleged building and planning violations. I guess he really shouldn’t have been involved. Yikes.

  6. The entire article is a astounding.

    You can’t make this stuff up !
    Richards who is the fiercest critic on the commission with regards to gentrification, and permit violations had a history of crushing homeowners and developers who have displaced tenants or committed permit violations.

    So now commissioner Richards is developing affordable rental properties into luxury housing and selling them as TICs.
    Tenants involved and permit violations on his own developments !!!!! The wheels have finally come off with SF politics.
    With a price tag of $7.5m and he bought the place place Last year for $2.7m !!

    I’m rubbing my eyes in disbelief .

  7. Hello. If you’re posting here and it’s not going up it may be because you’re making unverifiable claims. Statements like “I heard that” or “It looks like” or “it seems” are not factual.

    I am not going to fact-check your comments for you.

    Please take the time to formulate your comments so that they encompass what you know, and/or your opinions, and do not veer into hearsay.

    While we’re at it, ad-hominem attacks or referrals to most outside links will not be posted.

    Nor will, frankly, stuff that’s just dumb and of no redeeming value.



    1. Here is the link to the property that was for sale in 2018 before they purchased.

      Clearly states potential to have 3 vacant. This would mean the building was fully occupied with potential buyout for 3 of the 4 units.

      Where did the tenants go ? Have any buyouts been registered with the rent board ?

      I cannot believe that Dennis Richards one of the most out spoken commissioners on gentrification and permit violations is a partner on this project.

      1. Huh, it almost seems like Richards and his ilk use anti-gentrification, anti-displacement language in a pretextual, appropriative way to justify anti-homebuilding policies that enrich landowners and flippers.

  8. Well now that’s it out in the open, let’s get to the bottom of this. And those corrupt ones needs to be fired.

  9. Please give follow up on this

    Thanks for this article; as you know this is a widespread practice (it occurred next door to me)—-in folks flipping buildings for huge profit. Another sad part (aside from making the city unaffordable for normal working folks) is the “modernizing” of our beautiful Victorians.

  10. why is this coming out as an ordeal at the very end? revoking permits should be reserved for construction endangering inhabitants or the public. (an 8′ fence with undersized structure could qualify)
    when on site, the building inspectors could have easily noted the deviations and said “hey, you need to submit a revision”. during said revisions, the construction cost could be re-evaluated at DBI. it happens all the time and without courtroom drama.

  11. Commissioner Richards led the charge against the homeowner of 49 Hopkins for similarly “exceeding the scope of his permits”.

    Commissioner Richards has insisted that the City with such transgressors harshly and without mercy.

    Looks like a bit of the pot calling the kettle black.

    Looks like the chickens are coming home to roost.

  12. Corruption at City Hall entrenches itself even further. This is the pile of hypocrites every single homeowner and developer has to beg to make even the most simple changes to their property.

  13. Dennis,

    RBA has always been the tail that wags the dog at DBI.

    They gave a sitting commissioner 20 grand and a washer and dryer once to bribe her.

    She took it.

    Gave it back once discovered.

    Her punishment?

    She was promoted to the Redevelopment Authority.

    Send me the time and date of the Appeals hearing and I’ll be there.

    Will write about it but no one listens to me anyway.

    Boudin for DA!

    Preston in D-5!

    Bobby Coleman for SFUSD Board!

    Raju for Public Defender!

    Miyamoto for Sheriff!!

    Go Niners!


    1. Anyone interested in a voting guide should simply look here, study the list, and then do the opposite.

    2. She wasn’t a commissioner nor was the redevelopment position a promotion. She was the director of the building department and the payoff was a setup by the RBA and the redevelopment position was pay back from the city because they allowed her to be publicly attacked by the RBA at a council meeting.

    3. Clearly he has no business being on the Planning Commission. He works with “livable California,” which steals racial justice language to promote the interests of old white landowners while at the very same time literally gentrifying the Mission. Despicable!

      1. As opposed to figuratively gentrifying the Mission?

        Also, let me guess: your solution is to build lots more $3,500 one-bedroom apartments, right?