Santa Rosa is evicting two families who've lived rent-free for six years in city-owned houses near the city's wastewater treatment plant.
The residents of two older homes on Walker Avenue last week received 60-day notices to vacate the properties. Separate agreements with the city give them until Nov. 30 to vacate, said utilities director David Guhin.
"The intention from day one was to remove these homes and restore the property to open space land, and that's still the intention," Guhin said.
The families sold their properties to the city in 2007 as part of an effort to create a buffer zone around the Llano Road plant. The sale agreements allowed them to stay in the homes rent-free for three years.
But after the three years were up, the city never got around to doing anything with the homes, and the residents have continued to live in them rent-free.
After a series of stories in The Press Democrat outlined below-market rents in at least five homes owned by the city, two of which are occupied by city employees, city officials said they would review the leases and take appropriate actions.
The Walker Avenue homes are different than the others because they were purchased to remove potential conflicts between neighbors and the plant, whose operations can at times be loud, bright and stinky.
Mark Bottini, a 53-year-old painter and handyman who sold his property to the city in 2007 for $650,000, said he had hoped the city would allow him to go on living in the home for a fair rent. He said he's disappointed by the city's decision and thinks its acting out of embarrassment more than prudence.
"It's just a shame that they're going to bulldoze my house because there's nothing wrong with it," Bottini said.
He's been keeping an eye out for other rural rental properties he can afford, but so far can't find anything that has the space he needs to keep all his equipment, he said.
"It's pretty tough out there," he said.
He said he's worried he's going to have to get rid of his dog and will have to tell his daughter that she needs to find a new place to keep her horse, he said.
After his divorce, Bottini allowed several family members to live with him in the 1920s Craftsman-style home, charging them rent for a time. He now worries about their ability to find a suitable home.
Gerald Leuschen, his wife and two young boys moved in with Bottini in 2010. He said it's been a great experience for them to live on a ranch and allowed him to start a chicken business he hopes to continue in another location.
"We're very appreciative for the time that we were allowed to be there," Leuschen said.
Guhin said he expects to soon complete the renegotiation of the lease for a home on Occidental Road where a city employee has paid $500 per month to live for more than 15 years.
(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @citybeater)