back to article Bay Area man forced out of his $400 box home

Illustrator Peter Berkowitz had been forced out of his $400-a-month box home in San Francisco after officials ruled it a fire hazard. Berkowitz became a minor celebrity when he spoke to his local NBC station about his custom built pod in the living room of his friends' house in Outer Sunset. The rent is San Francisco is so …

  1. Huns n Hoses

    fire hazard

    But the sofa right next to it is not

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: fire hazard


      If someone decides to put their bed in a wooden box, because e.g. they feel more comfortable sleeping in a closed space, no fucking authority would or should care. Fire hazard? My arse.

      We need a larger WTF? icon.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: fire hazard

        True do it to your own bed and it would be fine. If you decided to put the bed in a box and charge someone a monthly rent for sleeping in it then it becomes a different matter as you'd have a healthy and safety responsibility to the unlucky tenant.

      2. To Mars in Man Bras!

        Prevention is Better than Spontaneous Combustion

        Sounds like my landlords. They also seem to have a horror of spontaneous combustion. I've had them write to me proclaiming as "Fire Hazards" my bicycle stored under the stairwell and plant-pots near my front door.

        1. DropBear

          Re: Prevention is Better than Spontaneous Combustion

          Well... your bike probably has some sort of LED light for visibility and since nobody uses actual dynamos to power those these days, it probably contains a Li-ion battery - see? Fire hazard! As for the plant of pot, well pot has a long and distinguished history of being smoked, so that's no doubt a guaranteed hazard.

      3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: Evil Auditor

        "Fire hazard? My arse."

        Have you tried Milk Of Magnesia?

        1. Evil Auditor Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          @Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese

          Well played!

      4. Eddy Ito

        Re: fire hazard

        Oddly if he took the exact same box, stuck it on a small trailer frame and added features such as a propane cook top it would simply be a camping trailer and not a fire hazard. Perhaps he could even give it a little aerodynamics and make it a teardrop shape.

        1. Darryl

          Re: fire hazard

          Actually, given the latest enviro-hipster trend here in NA, it would be considered a Tiny House and there would be documentaries made about how innovative he was.

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: fire hazard

      Some people, in colder climes than SF, go to sleep with a hot water bottle for comfort. Maybe he should cuddle up with a fire extinghuisher.

    3. anniemouse

      Re: fire hazard

      however larger more fashionable cardboard boxes which are rain or sweat dampened work fine. But technology will find a way to reduce the space between atomic particles by 90%! This will easy the shortage of resources. Some protesters express concern that humans may become food for crows but most scientists agree that a repellent will be available by then.

      Next time an alien ship lands, i'm get'n on board.

      1. picturethis

        Re: fire hazard

        "Next time an alien ship lands, i'm get'n on board."

        Just make sure to check their library and verify that they don't have a book called "How to Serve Man"...

      2. Code For Broke

        Re: fire hazard

        @anniemouse. Wish I could upvote twice. Hail Bob Dobbs.

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: fire hazard

      there's the fact that it's made out of wood so if there was a fire "anybody inside it would essentially be toast."

      Likewise the many wooden houses in SF too.

    5. Malignant_Narcissism

      Re: fire hazard

      Maybe if you and the rest of the clowns here did any homework before commenting, you'd know that isn't what is primarily being called out via the housing codes enforcement. Almost all local building ordinances have minimum room size requirements. It makes sense on several levels to have this, including the ability to get out fast *in the event of a fire* or in the case of California, an earthquake.

      1. a_yank_lurker

        Re: fire hazard

        Or in SF's case, another way to shake down the unwanted human vermin and force them to leave.

      2. Sir Runcible Spoon

        Re: fire hazard

        "including the ability to get out fast *in the event of a fire*"

        Surely if the room is smaller it would allow for a quicker evacuation?

        Perhaps I should sue my Mum for renting me the space under the stairs for £120 month - no lights and just a curtain for privacy.

        1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

          Re: fire hazard

          Owl from Hogwarts hasn't been round yet?

        2. Fungus Bob

          Re: fire hazard

          "Surely if the room is smaller it would allow for a quicker evacuation?"

          Definitely. One can shit one's pants up to 10 times more quickly in very tight spaces.

    6. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: fire hazard

      Utter bollocks.

      This is all I can say when hearing this from an official a country where 95% of the residential housing is wooden (actually nowdays OSB3) panels assembled on a wooden frame. It may be violating other reqs (such as minimal size, space and amenities), but fire hazard? Give me a break.

  2. raving angry loony

    Enclosed space?

    So any enclosed space that contains a bed is illegal in that area? So much for anyone in the area getting a traditional Breton box-bed.

    I think the city has somehow confused the definitions of "bedroom" and "coffin". Someone should probably fix that before some of the Bay Area bureaucrats and politicians who refuse to help out the poorer citizens get sent to bed.

  3. Nunyabiznes

    Street Living

    So the structurally sound (looking anyway) wooden box in a building that presumably meets fire codes is not allowed, but a cardboard creation in an abandoned building next to an open burn barrel is A-OK?

    I think we might have found one of the causes of the SF housing market.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Street Living

      It makes my old 110M² loft for $450 a month sound like a bargain!

  4. Shadow Systems Silver badge

    The housing situation in the Bay is obscene.

    A "living wage" in the area means you have to be making Seven Figures a year just to afford an apartment, or Eight Figures for a house. It will be a tiny, cramped, crappy little thing among hundreds of other crappy little things, packed together like sardines in a tin. If you want "comfortable" or "roomy" then your income needs to be at least Nine Figures, which means you're not flipping burgers, pushing a broom, or scrubbing toilets for a living. Parking? That's out on the street with all the other residents that have a parking sticker, but good luck FINDING a spot given that there's a hundred of you battling for the ~25 spaces on the block that AREN'T designated No Parking - Loading Zone or Emergency Vehicles Only. Park there & your car will be towed before you finish slipping your keys in your pocket.

    The cost of living in the area is just horrible. I had considered moving there to be closer to members of my family, but they live in a two bedroom house that costs them more per month in *utilities* than I used to pay *per year* on a three bedroom home with a front & back yards, garage, & paved drive. It's not merely insane, it's disheartening to know that you can't live in the Bay area if you're not already making a few hundred thousand per year, especially not if you want such "luxuries" as food, internet service, a cellphone, or a life outside the office.

    1. Nate Amsden Silver badge

      Re: The housing situation in the Bay is obscene.

      My nice 1 bedroom apartment (830 sq feet) in San Bruno(~15mi south of SF?) runs about $2900 now(around $2200 when I moved in originally). After living here for the past 5 years I am moving my shit to storage for a 3 month trip to Thailand then moving to Modesto, CA when I get back. I have been working 99% from home for a while now, and no reason to go to the office.

      My CIO encouraged me to work 6 months out of the year in Thailand, I hadn't considered that before but will think about it, getting long term visa for there is difficult I am told though.

      The team I support works in Seattle, the infrastructure I support is in Atlanta and Amsterdam, my manager is in New York, 3/4ths of my team is outside of California, so really no reason to stay(that wasn't the case 5 years ago).

      I want to stay close to the bay area in case I want/need to come back, Modesto not too far away(about 100 miles). Rent around $1100/mo for a similar size/quality place out there.

      Originally moved here to be close to my company(HQ is about 1 mile away), and for future career prospects, though I have decided I probably won't leave this company in the next year or two or three(or more), so little reason to endure the high cost of housing anymore.

      The bay area offers nothing else of interest to me, and I don't want to move back to Seattle area either.

      I thought I would end up building a new network down here (network in seattle is pretty big, was there for 10 years). But I am not a very social person, and being at just one company the whole time has limited my exposure to other folks, and I don't enjoy vendor events so I never go to them (or conferences). So that aspect of living here has been a bust (except for the folks that have left the company I am at over the past few years).

      Seeing a bedroom costing $1300-$3k/mo in SF .. I don't have words for that. I downgraded to 830sq feet from 1000sq feet when I moved here, can't imagine being happy with something much smaller. My new apartment will be between 1000 sq feet and 1350 depending on which model is available when I move back, all for half or less than what I pay now.

      Moving out next friday, yay.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The housing situation in the Bay is obscene.

        Yes, SF housing is crazy. The thing that amazes me about SF housing is that you cannot give yourself a long commute and lower your rent by much. Rent is still crazy on the east side of the bay. Anywhere within two hours of SF or SV is crazy high. Rent is equally as high in Manhattan, but you can always opt to move to a suburb and have relatively reasonable rent. There is no escape in SF. Awesome place to live though if you can afford it. You would think someone would just build dorms in one of the SF suburbs at $1,000 a month or something.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: The housing situation in the Bay is obscene.

          Even back in the 1990s when I lived in the East Bay (Walnut Creek), housing costs for anywhere near a BART stations was getting interesting.

          My folks out there who built their house in a nice spot with a Mt.Diablo view are sitting on a pretty pile now.

        2. Code For Broke

          Re: The housing situation in the Bay is obscene.

          Whoa there AC. Rent in suburban NJ, as much a 40 miles west of NYC, which, at rush hour is a 2-hour commute, still has an absolute floor of $1500 a room, and that's if you are shtuping the landlord.

      2. a_yank_lurker

        Re: The housing situation in the Bay is obscene.

        In the metro Atlanta area, higher end 2 or 3 bed room apartments (1100 - ~1500 sq.ft.) rent for about a $1/sq. ft. or about $1300/mon. Renting a house is a little more.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The housing situation in the Bay is obscene.

          I used to live in Atlanta. I probably still should live in Atlanta. The housing costs were low. I came from Minneapolis, middle of the road nationally... maybe slightly above middle, certainly nothing comparable to NY or SF, and Atlanta was still noticeably less costly.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: The housing situation in the Bay is obscene.

      It's getting bad everywhere, but SF, like all the other top 10 cities in the U.S. (and other large cities around the world), is out of control.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The housing situation in the Bay is obscene.

        "It's getting bad everywhere, but SF, like all the other top 10 cities in the U.S. (and other large cities around the world), is out of control."

        True enough. It seems like rents are sky rocketing in every major US city. I live a major Midwest city, traditionally a fairly low cost section of the country, and rents rise noticeably every year. It is pretty costly to rent a reasonable apartment, probably $1,200 for a decent, but not extravagant, one bedroom. It seems like another housing crash is in the works.

        I like this guy's plan of moving to Modesto, CA. I thought about that myself when I was considering a Bay area move. Modesto is basically in the middle of nowhere, so it is inexpensive, but you are about a 1.5 hours to SF and probably an hour to Yosemite in the opposite direction. If you could work from home most of the time and go to SF or SV a day a week, that would probably be a great set up.

    3. War President

      Re: The housing situation in the Bay is obscene.

      The Bay area housing scene is insane. Clearly, the best solution would be for tech companies to include dormitories for their employees to live in, ala FoxConn (just make sure the windows don't open to cut down on possible suicide attempts). That would enable even their lowest paid employees to live in the area, rather than face a 2 hour commute. The second best solution is what this couple did.

  5. sjsmoto

    But it's funny how cities will throw some regulations out the window, like they do with taxi laws for Uber.

  6. Nolveys
    Thumb Up

    Gubment To The Rescue.

    Look at the placement of the thing, it's just begging for someone to come around and start a fire right next to it. Even if a chain-linked fence or razor wire was installed to keep the fire starters away there's still the concern of spontaneous human combustion. Also, a table is sitting within arms length of the thing. That table is made of wood and could explode into flame any second.

    And think of the potential effects of letting people do as they please in their own homes. Building boxes? Do you know what comes in boxes? Bombs, guns, smut and satanic literature.

    They should lock that guy up along with the owners of the residence and throw away the key.

    Thank goodness we have government to protect us from ourselves!

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Gubment To The Rescue.

      Bed in a box = bad.

      Assault Rifle = OK.

      1. kain preacher

        Re: Gubment To The Rescue.

        Um not on California. Having an assault riffle is a felony.

  7. Anonymous Blowhard

    Aren't many American houses made of wood anyway? How much more of a fire hazard is a small wooden box inside a large wooden box?

    1. rfrovarp

      They have fireproofing in the form of sheet rock or plaster. They also are going to have multiple egresses (windows and doors).

      The big issue here is that he was paying someone else. He might be able to get away with that in his own house, but not when you're paying someone else.

      1. energystar

        Pay with work.

        Laundry, dishes, cleaning, etc.

      2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Big Brother

        The Smell of the Red Republic of California

        The big issue here is that he was paying someone else. He might be able to get away with that in his own house, but not when you're paying someone else.

        Control, Interdict, Verify, Tax & Squander, Deploy Eminent Domain Rulings if someone wants to "develop" a neighborhood.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: The Smell of the Red Republic of California

          You forgot: Elect the likes of Feinstein to keep you safe from terrorists, et al.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The only places that fire rated sheet rock is required is in between units. Inside the boundary of your apartment/condo/house the walls will typically be ordinary paper faced gypsum drywall (in newer construction) that is most definitely not fire rated.

        There is absolutely no reason for them to claim his box is a fire hazard, as it is no different than the walls of the bedroom(s) in that apartment. I suppose he could cover the plywood with drywall, or make the box out of drywall instead of plywood, if they insist that bare wooden walls are the problem. I wonder what specious excuse they'd give then?

        Him paying $400 to live in his box inside someone else's apartment is no different than answering an ad for a roommate. A lot of places (not sure about SF) have requirements about number of occupants versus number of bedrooms/beds, but that's typically in areas trying to limit the areas where college students or immigrants can live, so I doubt SF specifically addresses that as they are hardly anti-immigrant.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "I wonder what specious excuse they'd give then?"

          Because he's effectively renting a "bedroom" then they would, as per the article, use the laws brought in to stop landlords fleecing people by enforcing the regulations on room size and light access.

          I could see some shonky landlord seeing this and putting multiple "boxes" per room and then screaming how it's unfair that his new "disruptive business model" is being regulated out of existence by the existing business interests.

          1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

            "I could see some shonky landlord seeing this and putting multiple "boxes" per room and then screaming how it's unfair that his new "disruptive business model" is being regulated out of existence by the existing business interests."

            Which is a situation that would justify making a law forbidding the practice. What people are objecting to is the misuse of a regulation designed for an entirely different purpose because one person or group with no mandate has decided they don't like it.

            If you don't understand the concern just replace "box" with "gay sex" or "electronic device" or anything else authorities have tried to ban out of ignorance and prejudice.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              The guy chose to live in a box, he didn't answer an ad for living in a box. He is living at a friend's house and instead of paying him a few bucks to crash on his couch he hired a carpenter to build himself a box and made a big deal out of it by telling people.

              If he'd said "I'm paying my friend $400/month to crash on his couch" no one would have batted an eye, there are countless thousands doing the same in SF, NYC, London and every other major city.

              1. werdsmith Silver badge

                A house not far from where I live has expanded rearwards on the ground level to completely enclose the rear garden under a shanty type building. I think there are 20 or so residents. I don't think any authority has noticed yet, but it can be seen clearly enough on Google Earth.

      4. a_yank_lurker

        Real problem: "Loose lips sink ships". He needed to keep his mouth shut.

        1. To Mars in Man Bras!
          Thumb Up

          Re: Loose Lips

          Spot on! If you're up to something a bit suspect, don't go broadcasting it on "Social Meeeja" and the press and then expect the humourless authorities to turn a blind eye.

          The guy could probably have lived there indefinitely, if he'd kept his mouth shut. But he just had to have his five minutes of fame. Still. I'm sure the 'retweets' and 'likes' were worth becoming homeless for.

  8. Daedalus

    As seen in "Billennium" well-known optimist J. G. Ballard.

  9. energystar

    Taiwan has generations on this...

    Japan has had pods decades ago. Know limited budget of San Francisco's department of building inspection, but guidance [maybe through other routes] could drive solutions to the stressed ones, instead of conflict and eviction.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've lived in a smaller "bedroom" than that. It was practically a shelf with a curtain above a mixing desk in a recording studio. I moved out after my second nervous breakdown. Never got any jip from Lewisham council, although they probably didn't know.

    This is probably of no interest to anyone but it made me nostalgic.

  11. Christopher E. Stith

    shouldn't have called it a room

    That's not a bedroom. It's a bunk. It's not illegal to have a bed in a room. It's not illegal for that bed to be an enclosed bunk. When you say it's a structure rather than furniture you're inviting building codes into the conversation.

  12. Unicornpiss
    Thumb Down

    So by that rationale..

    Aren't kids' bunk beds that are pretty well enclosed even worse? How is this a fire hazard unless he's smoking in it or cooking in it? What if he were to install a 2nd exit or a sprinkler system? I've seen lofts every bit as bad that are apparently up to code.

    There always has to be some asshat that will spoil the fun for anyone doing something unusual.

  13. anniemouse

    condo prison cells at Alcatraz feature luxury units under $250,000.

    and quite expensive if you aren't sharing one. The pricier ones have the best view. Includes toilet, sink, and secure doors. Kitchen privileges are available at extra cost.

    Welcome to the "humans can be like insects too" planet. Always carry a shovel, you never know when you may need to dig a hole to camp out in.


    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Re: condo prison cells at Alcatraz feature luxury units under $250,000.

      Since Alacatraz prison has long been closed I thought you were saying that it had been turned into luxury apartments. But since you weren't saying that I want my cut when it happens.

    2. Bumpy Cat

      Re: condo prison cells at Alcatraz feature luxury units under $250,000.




      So your point may be factually accurate but somehow misses the bigger picture.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thinking outside the box

    First rule of getting away with things: Never tell anyone.

    1. energystar

      Re: Thinking outside the box

      Peter is sharing a helpful idea. And is this sharing what's being punished. Would represent a lot more of inspection work. Handle as furniture on the near term. Create a Web Site to sketch Pod Regulation, on the long term. Extract Sub Lending terms and handle as Multi Lending [Associate to rent your next House].

  15. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    I wonder many of those high paying tech jobs that have caused this housing bubble could be done remotely from a home quite some distance from SF, or anywhere in the world for that matter? I think what we need is some sort of technology hot housing area where there are a lot of tech companies with the skills to look into possible methods of working remotely instead of having to live near the office.

    Maybe someone in Shoreditch could consult on it?

    All we need is some cool sounding name, like e-working. Or something.

    1. To Mars in Man Bras!
      Thumb Up

      Re: I wonder

      *"...All we need is some cool sounding name, like e-working. Or something..."*

      Oh, come on! You're not even trying. That's nowhere near 'Oo-Va-Voo' enough. It needs to be something like "Domesticum" or "Distancio".

  16. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Why I don't stop in SF

    Grand theft and vandalism investigations are nothing more than asking the victim to fill out an online crime statistics form but a large piece of furniture gets the authorities leaping into action.

  17. This post has been deleted by its author

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dutch oven

    No naked flames.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A box?



    ......when I were a lad we could house a family of 7 in a used baked beans can.


  20. chivo243 Silver badge

    Knickers in a twist

    Some Public Official has his knickers in a twist, due to building permits or some such shit. My son's after school care facility has a wooden box similar to this... It's called a play house!?

    Just goes to show you shouldn't toot your own horn, in some cases anyway.

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Knickers in a twist

      But if the same official were turning a blind eye to such things there would be plenty accusing him of not doing his job and there would be an outcry if it was revealed officials were effectively sanctioning such things.

      It was, as others have said, his big mouth which brought the authorities down on him, and the same too for the Michigan mum who is involved in an incestuous sexual relationship with her son.

      Blazing it all over the media means officials are forced to act in accordance with the letter of the law.

      The 11th Commandment: Don't get caught.

      And we can add the 12th: Don't dob yourself in.

  21. wolfetone Silver badge

    It's Good...

    But it's not quite as good as the landlord in London who was trying to rent out a Garden shed located in the living room of their house.

    Or the room, again in London, that was effectively the cubby hole under the stairs.

    Or the garden shed in, guess where - London, that someone was trying to rent to me for £600 p/m a few years ago. Although, in fairness, it was a lovely shed.

    1. Kevin Johnston

      Re: It's Good...

      There was a house near London where they had a kid living in the cupboard under the stairs and the authorities never took any notice so there are big regional variations here.

      He was a nice kid too that Harry Potter

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon

        Re: It's Good...

        That was me.

        When I saw the first Harry Potter film and I saw his living conditions, I thought "lucky bastard - he's got a door - and a LIGHT!'

        Although to be fair, his door was lockable from the outside, so I can't really grumble. But then again, he was living there rent free - my Mum was charging me £120 month!

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: It's Good...

      Was the landlord's name Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson, by any chance?

  22. Nifty Silver badge


    </yorkshire accent>

  23. Daveho

    This is hate

    So, this really is the government just hating financially frugal or challenged people making their own decisions for their life. Where is their right to privacy? What about equal protection and 'Rent Happens'? Waiting for Paypal, Ringo Star, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Moore, and everyone else with moral superiority to boycott the state!!! Don't H8!! Man, do I need a safe space now or what?

  24. Not That Andrew

    What's with all the sovereign citizen libertarian nutjobs in the comments?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wendy house?

    So are Wendy Houses banned in California then? If not, what teh problem with what the chap in teh stroy did?

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