Tenant in rent-free house owned by Santa Rosa says he's no freeloader

  • 4230 Walker Avenue in Santa Rosa, Calif., on August 22, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / For The Press Democrat)

The man who sold his rural home to the city of Santa Rosa in 2007 but has been living in it rent-free ever since said Friday he's no freeloader.

Mark Bottini said he's been willing to pay rent on the 2.4-acre Walker Avenue property since 2010, when his three-year lease-back deal for $1 expired.

But he's been waiting ever since for the city to get its act together and decide whether to offer him a new lease or kick him and his relatives off the property, he said.

"It's been just dragging on and dragging on and dragging on," said Bottini, a 53-year-old painter and handyman. "It's not from lack of me pushing to find out what the hell is going on."

Bottini's rent-free arrangement with the city, acknowledged by city officials Thursday, is the fifth property uncovered to date in which tenants — two of them city employees — have been paying below-market rents, or in two cases no rent at all.

Bottini could not be reached for comment before the story about the home ran in The Press Democrat on Friday. But after reading it, Bottini said he was concerned the story left the impression he was taking advantage of the situation, which he said is not true.

He said that he and his then-wife, Dawn, bought the property in 2005 as a place to keep their horses. They put a lot of money and energy into fixing it up, but after a couple years living next to the glaring lights and other inconveniencies of the wastewater treatment plant, decided to sell in 2007 to the city, which for years has been purchasing land to create a buffer zone around the plant.

After their efforts to find a replacement property stalled, they divorced, his kids went off to college and he found himself living in the farmhouse by himself, Bottini said.

That's when he let his ex-wife's cousin, her husband and two children move in with him. Gerald Leuschen and his family had lost their home in Rohnert Park and Bottini said he was trying to help them out.

"I'm a guy who helps everybody. I'm that kind of guy," Bottini said.

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