Robert Whitt knew something was not right when his tenant gave notice that he was moving out but didn't want Whitt to inspect the house — at least not right away.
The tenant had lived in Whitt's 1,600-square-foot home in southwest Santa Rosa for nearly three years and had not been a problem. "He always paid the rent, but, to be honest, it was kind of odd because he always paid with a cashier's check," Whitt said.
Finally, after not hearing from the tenant for a while, Whitt and his wife decided to pay a visit, and they were let inside. "The second we walked in, it smelled like dope in the house. And we knew," he said. "The bad thing about it is we had our kids<NO1><NO><NO1><NO> with us."
The house was trashed, he said. "The carpets were destroyed. You could smell it in the walls," he said. "There were big holes in the ceiling, and there was duct tape around the windows that they couldn't get off."
By all appearances, roughly half of the house was being used to grow marijuana.
When he told the tenants they would have to pay for all the repairs, things went from bad to worse. The tenant stopped communicating with him, hired an attorney and threatened to sue Whitt for violating his rights as a tenant and for causing distress to his girlfriend, who was on disability. His attorney said the man had a legal right to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Not knowing what to do, Whitt called the police but discovered they wouldn't help. They said it was a civil matter at that point.
"I was blown away by all of this. I had no rights," he said. "This guy had turned the tide on me. Made me look the perpetrator, and nobody was helping me."
Sounds like a nightmare. But for landlords, it's become business as usual while more people come to the realization that marijuana growing is no longer something that concerns remote areas of the North Coast. It's something that has moved into the neighborhoods. And it's not going away.
Consider these latest developments:
* Hydroponics stores are cropping up all over Sonoma County. While it's nice to see new businesses doing well, no one should be confused that this is triggered by a sudden interest in indoor tomato plants. As Staff Writer Julie Johnson recently reported, Santa Rosa now has nine such shops, the second most in the state.
* Lake County is in full retreat on pot regulations. As a result of a citizens' petition drive that threatened a referendum, supervisors there have rescinded a marijuana ordinance that would have banned outdoor cultivation in residential neighborhoods. A separate referendum drive last year resulted in the board rescinding its ordinance regulating marijuana dispensaries as well. As this newspaper reported last week, it now appears county voters will be voting in June on a ballot measure that would allow up to 12 budding marijuana plants in residential back yards and 84 on parcels of seven acres or more. In rural areas, such growing would be protected under the county's "right to farm" laws.
* And last week a judge gave permission to a Healdsburg man to seek restitution from thugs who, dressed as police officers, invaded his home, beat him and robbed him. What is the man seeking restitution for? Six pounds of marijuana worth an estimated $18,000. He had a medicinal marijuana card, of course.<NO1><NO><NO1><NO><NO1><NO><NO1><NO><NO1><NO><NO1><NO>