Would it be legally feasible to open a Japanese-style love hotel in SF?
September 24, 2013 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Would it be legally feasible to open a Japanese-style love hotel in San Francisco?

The idea is that it would be super high-end and exclusive. Would probably require a membership, and new members would need a referral from an existing member. Any member suspected of bringing a prostitute would be instantly removed from the premises and banned for life, and whoever referred them would be banned as well.

Thinking of SOMA or the Financial District, although I'm not sure if this matters.

Has anybody done this? Is anybody doing this? Any reason it would be illegal?
posted by evil otto to Law & Government (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, I don't remember exactly where it was, but a friend of mine told me about a 'spa' in the Bay Area which rented private hourly massage/jacuzzi rooms and were very discreet.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:40 PM on September 24, 2013


Call the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection. Apparently they're the ones who issue Hotel Licenses.

I don't know why you'd have to have memberships. The key to exclusivity is expense. So charge $100 per hour (or more). Certainly you'll be keeping street hookers out at that rate.

Do you think there would be a market for this? Certainly the novelty would be interesting, that is if you had theme rooms or something like that.

Basically, so long as the building were zoned for a hotel, I don't see what the BFD would be. But to get the straight skinny, you're going to have to call the city.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:51 PM on September 24, 2013


San Francisco doesn't already have motels that let out rooms by the hour? The idea of an hourly motel is not novel in the US. People who want to go to the "no-tell motel" will just go there like in the movie "Seven" or where Wendy works in "Breaking Bad".

Have you ever been to Japan and one of its love hotels? Having personal experience with love hotels in Japan, "super high-end", "exclusive", and "members only" is definitely not part of how a love hotel works. The niche the love hotel fills is to provide privacy in a country where living spaces are cramped and the walls are thin. (Although, I have also stayed at them during road trips because the accommodations are a lot more spacious and comfortable than the typical business hotel for a similar or cheaper price.) When checking in, you will either interact with a vending machine or a person behind a partition so that no one sees anyone's face. The idea is anonymity, so membership and policing who goes into the rooms is not part of the equation.

But no, I can't imagine why it would be illegal to implement the idea you propose. I just question its viability as a business model. I would be surprised to learn if anyone is running an establishment like the one you propose.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:52 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


require a membership, and new members would need a referral from an existing member. Any member suspected of bringing a prostitute would be instantly removed from the premises and banned for life, and whoever referred them would be banned as well.

Given these restrictions, you're no longer describing a "Japanese-style love hotel" -- those are open to anyone. However, given such rules, why would it be illegal? Along with your "high-end and exclusive" it's sounding more like some private club, than a hotel.

Also very interested in the details of the vetting process you'd be using to screen out the prostitutes.
posted by Rash at 1:53 PM on September 24, 2013


There are hotels that rent by the hour (example, directory) and there are definitely hotels that cater to swingers (example) or folks who want a romantic type of getaway (example) or fantasy themed stuff (example). So I'm not sure what you're looking for that doesn't already exist. I guess the question would be, if they're not illegal (and they seem not to be in at least some places in the US) why you don't see more of them?
posted by jessamyn at 1:54 PM on September 24, 2013


I'm pretty sure that love hotels thrive because they provide a place to get away from cultural taboo. Anyone who's walked a block in San Francisco knows that this particular city does not have that particular problem.

So, to answer the question: legally feasible...sure! Japanese style? I don't think so! Economically feasible? Probably not!
posted by destructive cactus at 1:55 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not a lawyer but presumably prostitution happens in all kinds of hotels, so I wouldn't think it's something you'd necessarily need to police any differently from any other hotel. For example unless solicitations are happening in the lobby or other customers are being disturbed in some way or any associated crimes are occurring on premises, it wouldn't seem that you would need to do anything special that any other hotel doesn't do. The key question is indeed whether there's a market for this. If you are more expensive than a rundown motel but less expensive than an overnight stay at a nice hotel, then presumably there are people who would pay for a room to use it for several hours or whatever. But do you have market research that indicates there are a lot of people like that?
posted by Dansaman at 1:57 PM on September 24, 2013


The idea is anonymity, so membership and policing who goes into the rooms is not part of the equation.

The issue in the US, as mentioned in the Wikipedia article, is that most local governments don't allow anonymity anymore for just this reason - it's why hotels, even hourly hotels, ask for a credit card even if you want to pay in cash.

Presumably having a private club would negate SOME of these recording requirements, BUT how do you run a club without records? And once you have records, they are subject to police interference if there is any suspicion that you are a brothel.
posted by muddgirl at 2:00 PM on September 24, 2013


Yes, I realize the actual Japanese love hotels may not be high-end or exclusive. But perhaps I'm going after a different market. For example, fewer Americans in their 20s need a place to have sex, since fewer live with their families. Mostly I'm wanting to target well-off professionals who want a tryst some time during the work day. This crowd would be turned off by a place if it's too scuzzy, but they'd be attracted to a place that offered lots of high-end amenities. The membership/referral stuff was just a way to : (a) to lend the place an air of exclusivity and (b) keep out prostitutes and their johns. But if there's a better way to accomplish those objectives, I'd be open to that.

I'm aware there currently are by-the-hour hotels and that sort of thing. However, from what I can tell, those places usually have to be discreet, especially since some of them do cater to prostitutes and their johns. Also, they tend to be pretty scuzzy. The place I'm envisioning would be (a) super nice and high-end and (b) very open and blatant as to its purpose.
posted by evil otto at 2:01 PM on September 24, 2013


(also, I should mention I have no problems with prostitutes or their clients. I was merely concerned about the legal ramifications of running a business that may be frequented by them)
posted by evil otto at 2:03 PM on September 24, 2013


Well, you'd be competing with the approximately 8 bazillion hotels that are already well established downtown.

The key factor is, what's the purpose of charging by the hour? Why would someone choose your room, versus the Marriott, where they'll earn points? How many people do you think need to get a room for a nooner?

If your place is nicer and offers romantic amenities, that's marketing. But I doubt very seriously that this could be a going concern.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:13 PM on September 24, 2013


When we were traveling recently my partner and I had a conversation about how great it would be if there were Japanese-style love hotels in the US so that we could have a place to take our toddler to have a nap while out and about, when it was too early in the day for us to check in to our hotel.

So if you're willing to consider families, you might find a much bigger market for a "nap hotel." Having it be super high-end and exclusive wouldn't be particularly attractive to me, though.
posted by medusa at 2:14 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dayuse Hotels is a relatively new booking site with a similar premise (although I don't see any properties in San Francisco). They might have some insights on the challenges of the business.

I'm not a lawyer but it seems to me like operating a public hotel where you are not screening clients gives you less liability than a private membership club where the police may assume that, if a prostitute slips by your screen, you are benefiting from his or her work and thus are a brothel.
posted by muddgirl at 2:14 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is a gym in Phila that rents hourly rooms and caters to an upscale gay male crowd.

Also, there is such a thing as high end escorts (prostitution) and I would see that as being the core client for the setup you describe. What makes you believe that High End Humbert would want to pay to have a tryst with main squeeze / wifey at lunchtime when he could...do that in his presumably nice apartment?
posted by WeekendJen at 2:15 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mostly I'm wanting to target well-off professionals who want a tryst some time during the work day

Well-off professional here. When I want a nooner, I drive home to Ms. Tanizaki.

I think that's the rub. As you note, well-off professionals and their playmates are usually going to have their own places. So, they are only going to go to your place if they cannot go to either of their places because of distance or because they have a spouse of live-in romantic partner. And of course, they are happy to pay you a high membership fee for this privilege.

Maybe I am naive, but I wonder if there is enough of a market there. Most ideas have already been thought by someone else, so the first question you need to answer is why your idea hasn't already been implemented by someone else.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:18 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


 Mostly I'm wanting to target well-off professionals who want a tryst some time during the work day.

Any standard chain hotel will rent you a room for a few hours during the day for a discounted day rate, this is a solved problem. Last time I transitted through the US I had a very nice four star hotel room in the middle of the day between flights for not much money at all. Fancier hotels do it too. What are you going to provide that they don't?
posted by shelleycat at 2:27 PM on September 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Mostly I'm wanting to target well-off professionals who want a tryst some time during the work day.

Well-off professionals are already able to either have an apartment in the city or just get a room in one of the many nice hotels that already exist. Running an independent, high-end hotel is not a particularly high-profit-margin venture, and you can already get a room for a whole day/night at a very nice chain hotel for what amounts to a pretty small sum for a well-off professional. Combine that with the fact that nobody raises an eyebrow when a well-off professional steps over to a high-end urban hotel during the day for a "meeting" or whatever, and what you're proposing actually sounds to me like it would be less attractive to a well-off professional having a tryst than what is already available.
posted by The World Famous at 2:32 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you want to know the legal intricacies of building, owning, and operating a private club/hotel in San Francisco, you should retain competent legal counsel. Assuming you have the financial wherewithal that it would take to build out a high-end luxury commercial space in San Francisco like you're describing, which could compete on price and level of high-end experience with the very nice hotels already in that city, then I would imagine that you already have more than one lawyer you deal with on a fairly regular basis. I'd ask her or him to refer you to someone who does commercial real estate development law in the city.
posted by The World Famous at 2:42 PM on September 24, 2013


I'm slightly surprised no one's mentioned the Sybaris hotels in the Chicago area. They seem to be in the same ballpark as your idea, and can be rented for an afternoon or evening. If you read up on the idea, you'll find that the founder had a very similar desire and market niche.

I don't think you'll be able to escape the "Sex Hotel" image, but then, if that's your business....

Good luck!
posted by RogueTech at 2:59 PM on September 24, 2013


You can definitely rent a room for a few hours during the day at most major hotels. It's actually common for lots of non-tryst reasons. I had that kind of rental when I needed a spot for downtime during a daylong conference and when I had a long travel layover. I know that the JW Marriott on Post St will do it if you ask. There are nearly 34,000 hotel rooms in San Francisco. It's a competitive market and day rate rentals are certainly available.

Also, if someone sees me at the Marriott during the day there are plenty of reasons why I'd be there: lunch with a client, meeting in a conference room. The love hotel doesn't have as much of a cover story. That might be relevant to your target market.
posted by 26.2 at 6:49 PM on September 24, 2013


I am not saying this to be a smartass, but aren't well-off professionals um...working all day throughout the day these days and not so much skipping off for a nooner?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:18 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are definitely features that some love hotels offer that would make this much more attractive.
posted by novalis_dt at 9:09 PM on September 24, 2013


Twenty years ago a boyfriend and I wandered past a by-the-hour hot tub place in Portsmouth, NH. We found it shocking, intriguing, and went in! It was cold and rainy out, and we splurged on a hot tub room that was designed much like a sauna with wood slat walls, plus tons of hanging plants and a car stereo mounted in the wall with a selection of CDs. It was.so.great.

Don't recall what if anything alleviated any skeeviness re sanitary issues.

It was not a hotel. It was ~$30 for an hour. It was absolutely fabulous. Never seen one before or since. Maybe something like that?
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 3:47 AM on September 25, 2013


Whoah. This could be it. And they're on Facebook. Does SFO have something like this? If not, maybe consider it, and have those family rooms mentioned above, too.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 4:00 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


and (b) keep out prostitutes and their johns.

I wouldn't bother. Set the hourly rate and the audience will be filtered. You probably actually don't want to keep out prostitutes and their clients, you probably just want to keep out street walkers because that's who you see when you think "prostitutes."

I was merely concerned about the legal ramifications of running a business that may be frequented by them

There are basically none, which is good because every high-end hotel in SF is littered with them. They probably aren't visible to you because they don't look like street walkers but they are there. So if you want to investigate this seriously, you need to learn about how escorts, companions and outcalls work in hotels because they are nearly universal and a consistent part of a lobby's traffic. I'm not saying "open a hotel and it will turn into a brothel under your nose" but I am saying that attempting to exclude this clientèle at a posh hotel renting rooms by the hour is an exercise in utter futility.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:49 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


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