By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa officials this week revealed the existence of a second city-owned home occupied by people who haven’t paid rent to the city for six years.
The 2.4-acre property on Walker Avenue was purchased by the city in 2007 as part of an effort to create a buffer zone around the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Llano Road.
The city bought the home and outbuildings from Mark Bottini for $650,000, allowing him and his immediate family to lease back the property for $1 through July 2010.
But city officials never followed up after 2010, and Bottini has remained in the home rent free, even charging another family rent to live there with him.
The situation is similar to that of Adan and Kimberly Ortiz, who have been living rent-free in a nearby home on Walker Avenue since selling it to the city in 2007. Their arrangement was outlined in a Press Democrat story earlier this month.
The second Walker Avenue home came to light Wednesday after city officials acknowledged the lease had not been not disclosed in response to a public records act request made by The Press Democrat last month.
The request sought review of all leases on city-owned properties with structures. It followed a story in June that described how the city was leasing two rural homes in Roseland for $100 and $200 per month, one of them to a city employee.
The documents released last month included a variety of well known city-owned buildings, such as the Railroad Square Depot, which operates as a visitors center, and the clubhouse at Bennett Valley Golf Course, which is home to Legends Sports Bar and Grill.
They also revealed the Walker Avenue home where Ortiz lived rent-free, as well as a 1-acre Occidental Road property leased since 1998 to a city employee, Denise Cadman, for $500 per month.
Like the two Roseland properties, the Occidental Road site was covered by a “caretakers lease” that provided below-market rent in recognition of the poor conditions of the older homes and the tenants’ duties to alert the city to any trouble on the properties.
The second Walker Avenue lease was not disclosed last month because of an administrative oversight, City Clerk Terri Griffin said.
Both leases had been delivered to the clerk’s office in response to the request, but the second lease was inadvertently not made available to the media, Griffin said.
City Manager Kathy Millison said that because of the oversight, she was unaware of the second Walker Avenue home until recently.
According to land records, Bottini purchased the home in May 2005 for $450,000 and sold it to the city on July 3, 2007, for $650,000.
The deal allowed Mark Bottini and his wife at the time, Dawn Bottini, and their minor children to live in the home for three years for $1. No other tenants were allowed to live in the home and no portion of the property could be sublet, according to the lease.
But Bottini appears to have rented portions of the home to another family.
Contacted at the property this week, Gerald Leuschen, 39, said he has lived in the 1920s Craftsman-style home with his wife, two young boys and Bottini since 2010.
Leuschen and his family moved into the home after an accident four years ago left him disabled, he said. He declined to say how he knows Bottini.
Leuschen had been an accupressurist, woodworker and insurance agent, but now raises more than 200 chickens on the property, he said.
He confirmed information from other sources that Bottini charged him rent for nearly two years even though Bottini didn’t own the property and wasn’t paying rent to the city.
Leuschen declined to say how much he paid Bottini monthly, but said he stopped doing so last year after city officials informed him the lease was invalid.
He said the home is well built and he hopes to go on living there. It has been a great experience for his boys to spend time on a farm, he said.
“I have no complaints about this place,” Leuschen said. “If the city wanted to sell it, I’d buy it.”
Bottini couldn’t be reached for comment.
Millison previously said that budget cuts and staffing changes contributed to the first Walker Avenue home being “missed” by city staff.
She said this week the city continues to evaluate a total of six houses to determine if they are suitable for rental or caretaker leases.
Included in the review are two homes on Walker Avenue, two in Roseland at the future site of Roseland Creek Community Park, one on Occidental Road and one in Howarth Park, she said. The review includes what, if any, upgrades should be made by the city and what fair rents should be.
If the city decides to continue renting any of the homes, an outside management firm likely will be hired to do the work, Millison said.
The review also includes whether homes intended for demolition should be razed, a process that would require notification of the tenants, inspections and contracts to complete the work.
“The City is currently in various stages of process for inspection, cost estimates, and preparation of notification,” Millison said in a statement. “In all cases the City is pursuing resolution of the status of the properties as quickly as possible.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or email@example.com. On Twitter@citybeater.