Two Ocean Beach residents are suing their landlord, claiming he is unlawfully kicking them out of their apartments on West Point Loma Boulevard.
But it goes a little deeper than that, as the landlord Michael Mills is also turning many of his other units in the same complex into short-term rentals and the tenants worry their places are next.
Damin Dixon is fighting to stay in his leased apartment that looks right out to the ocean, and he hired an attorney to help him. Dixon claims, and as verified by the NBC7 Investigates team, his landlord, Mills, served him a notice to vacate.
“There’s no reason to boot me out. I’ve been here for over two years. I’ve always paid on time. 100% disabled veteran,” Dixon said.
Dixon said Mills failed to give him a reason why he was being evicted. Mills has since claimed, to NBC 7 investigates, that this was a mistake by his property manager. The lawsuit lists both the failure to provide a reason for vacating and the increase in rent as unlawful.
“I asked like, ‘Hey, isn’t this a little too much?’ but never heard back. For like six months … never got a response to that message,” Dixon said.
Shortly after, signs popped up indicating several units were licensed as short-term rentals. Mills has 114 of them, admitting he found a loophole in the city requirement that each San Diego short-term rental have a different host. Mills admits he enlisted friends and family to sign on as hosts.
“We have a lot of turnover on the beach, probably average tenancies between nine months and one year. So as they become naturally open, what we’ve been doing is switching to short-term rentals, or what I call vacation rentals. That began in November 2018,” Mills said.
But he stands by his claim that he did not break the law and that the application only required particular information, not stating the host has to be a homeowner.
“I think it was ethical. I didn’t write the law,” Mills said, as he listed the required information his hosts provided.
He claims he never intended to vacate Dixon from his unit and that raising the rent was a miscalculation.
“I have never evicted a disabled veteran and I certainly don’t plan to start,” Mills said.
As Mills deals with the lawsuit, he’s also facing criticism over his short-term rental licenses.
The ordinance author, councilmember Jen Campbell, told NBC 7 that Mills’ maneuver is not how the law was meant to work.
“On their own, they said they’re gonna try this. We are gonna game the system. Well, guess what? No, you’re not gonna game the system because the whole idea is one to make more housing available to San Diegans who live and work here full time,” Campbell said.
In a previous NBC 7 story, Dixon did acknowledge that he figured the ordinance was meant to restrict the number of short-term rentals in the city. Dixon told NBC 7 he isn’t relying on TV camera interviews for Mills’ word. Instead he will look to his attorneys from here on out.
Mills said that he has never provided notice to a tenant to vacate, solely for the purpose of turning the unit into a short-term rental.
“The people that live here are very welcoming and like it’s like all the outcasts who’ve created their own family here. And that’s what I love about it,” he said.
Mills said he no longer lives in San Diego, but did call Ocean Beach home for many years. He told NBC 7 he hopes to settle this with his tenants outside of court.
It’s unclear what will come of his licenses, now that the city is looking into them.