Rodrigo Santos and the imaginary toilets: a strange and terrible saga

Say what you will about engineer, permit expediter and accused federal criminal Rodrigo Santos, but…

Say what you will about engineer, permit expediter and accused federal criminal Rodrigo Santos, but the man has range. His alleged misdeeds span from the abstract to the concrete. 

Or, rather, through the concrete: The City Attorney has accused him of using forged permits to undertake risky excavations that could’ve gotten somebody killed, and purportedly did undermine the homes of not only Santos’ clients, but also their neighbors’. The Feds have also accused him of orchestrating a bribery scheme, and both the City Attorney and Feds have accused Santos of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his clients, bit by bit, via check fraud.  

So, that’s reality. But the latest Santos news involves a voyage into the world of illusions. And toilets are involved. 

In October, 2020, Santos filled out a pair of permit applications for his client, building owner Tony Gundogdu. The permits called for bathroom remodels “in kind” for six units at Gundogdu’s property at 311 11th Ave., a rare single-room occupancy hotel in the Richmond District. 

Department of Building Inspection jargon is often impenetrable, but this isn’t: “in kind” means this is the most straightforward type of work, the replacement of existing items with like items. “No structural changes. No changes to layout,” Santos wrote on the forms. Both Santos and Gundogdu signed their names.   

So, this was portrayed as the most innocuous, nothing-to-see-here type of remodel imaginable. And these permits were approved. But the problem was that there was nothing to see here. As in: There were no bathrooms to remodel.  

A detail from one of the two permits for the nonexistent bathrooms (a second called for a ‘remodel’ in Unit # 2).

This building dates to 1910, and has been known as “the Elite Hotel” for generations. Its residents tend to be older, and many have lived here for quite some time. Thirty-plus-year resident Bob O’Brien remembers a long-ago landlord keeping the rents purposefully low to help people out, and fostering a real sense of community. 

Under Gundogdu, who bought the building in 2017, that’s not the case. The property manager, O’Brien says, hasn’t returned any of his emails about safety conditions on-site for nearly five years. O’Brien has become inured to loud, intrusive and even unsafe-looking construction here. But, like other residents we spoke to, he couldn’t help but notice bathrooms going into rooms where, previously, there weren’t any.