(AP) — A popular arts school that is one of San Francisco's largest property owners has illegally removed hundreds of residential units from the city's tight housing market, San Francisco said in a lawsuit filed on Friday.
Academy of Art University acquired buildings that are zoned for use as apartments and other residences and converted them to student dorms without permission from San Francisco officials, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said.
The conversions were intended to accommodate the school's swelling student rolls, which have boosted its profits, but they cost the city roughly 300 residential dwellings, he said.
"Academy of Art quite simply is an egregious land use scofflaw, and its defiance persists at the worst possible time for our residents," Herrera said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit.
James Brosnahan, an attorney for the university, said Herrera's lawsuit was premature. The university has been working with planning officials to resolve the city's concerns, and has offered the city two properties for low income housing and $10 million. It has also agreed to increase its housing stock in the future through new construction, Brosnahan said.
"A point that is missed is the students," he said. "You have a lot of low income art students, painters, sculptors, that are affected by this lawsuit today."
The lawsuit comes after a decade-long fight between city officials and the university over its alleged violations.
Herrera said in the suit that the university has "cavalierly" changed the use of over 22 buildings in San Francisco, including by turning office space into classrooms. He also accused the university of violating other rules, including building code and signage requirements, and said it has stalled and negotiated in bad faith over the years.
The lawsuit calls on a judge to declare a number of university properties a nuisance and order the school to stop using them. It also seeks fines.