San Francisco

After Going Viral, Outer Sunset 'Pod Guy' Selling Custom Pods [Updated]

Outer Sunset resident and illustrator Peter Berkowitz became Internet-famous last week when a story about his life in a custom housing "pod" in his friend's living room, where he pays $400 per month, went viral

Although Berkowitz admits he could afford to pay more, the DIY hack has saved him thousands in rent in a city where the median rent for a one-bedroom is now $3,500. Even in the Outer Sunset, traditionally thought to be less expensive than the rest of San Francisco, the average rent is $2,400 a month.

In an op-ed for the Guardian titled "Why I choose to pay $400 to live in a box," Berkowitz wrote, "When you live in a city with a housing crisis, like I do, you have to be creative about how to reduce the rent ... I love the pod we’ve built. As I see it, I have all the essentials and then some; privacy, a comfortable place to work due to a fold-down desk, perfect light for reading and a tastefully calm place to be in."

Now, it looks like Berkowitz, who built the original pod with designer Stan Kim, woodworker Jeff Goodwin and others, is expanding his horizons beyond illustration, offering custom pods for sale on Craigslist for people who want to make money with AirBnB or have their own subletters. 

Mike*, an Outer Sunset resident who has a room available on Craigslist during the summer while his family is traveling, says that he received this note from Berkowitz after posting his listing:

I'm Peter, I'm an illustrator, and I was recently a little bit in the news for living in a pod in an apartment in San Francisco. (You can also read about it on my website.)

Essentially, and this is a bit of a weird ask, I'm wondering if you might be interested in having a pod set up (free of charge) in your apartment to enable you to make money from either subletters or Airbnbers. And if it doesn't end up working, I'd also come and take the pod away, again, free of charge. Also, I would help you find subletters or Airbnbers - a lot of people have emailed me who are interested in living in such a situation. Last, I'm very much willing/excited to customize the pod/bed to make something beautiful and functional in your space.

(Of course, this wouldn't be charity - as I'm thinking now, I'd take care of the payment with the subletter and in turn send you a check monthly, taking some cut. All of this is open to discussion though.)

Thanks so much, feel free to get in touch.

However, Mike decided against taking Berkowitz up on the offer. “No way I would answer him,” he told Hoodline. “Not only I'm pretty sure the pod thing is illegal, but I'm not contributing to that trend. ”

We’ve reached out to Berkowitz for comment on his new business idea, but as of press time, he has not yet responded. We’ll update when we find out more.

Update, 4/7: The Department of Building Inspection reached out to Hoodline, confirming that the pods are illegal and a violation of housing, building, and fire safety codes.

"He wanted to know how he could make it legal," said chief housing inspector Rosemary Bosque, who had spoken to Berkowitz roughly a week ago. "He would have to completely open it up or look at something different, such as a bed with a frame, with curtains, something that was open to the room. This would be the case for anywhere in the country with respect to building and inhabitability codes."

"We're concerned that Mr. Berkowitz is going out and trying to increase the number of these, knowing that this is an at-risk type of thing to do," said DBI's legislative and public affairs manager, William Strawn. "It's not just a matter of high rents and a matter of how people are coping with rents in San Francisco; there are fire safety realities."

"I was just trying to gauge interest from people nearby," Berkowitz told us in response. "I am not moving forward with anything I outlined in that email."

*Name has been changed.

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