Sonoma County is experiencing a second wave of fire victims: renters

Sonoma County is experiencing a second wave of fire victims: renters.

Many are being evicted because their homes are now needed by the landlords, for themselves or someone else to live in. 

"It would have been easier if everything was just gone, and we started over," Jeff Larcher told KTVU, in the Santa Rosa house he has rented for 12 years. 

Larcher, his wife and two children, must vacate the 3 bedroom home by January 5. 

Ironically, they evacuated the night of the October firestorm, fearing they might lose everything. 
And now, more than a month later, they are. 

"We'd have been a lot better off if our house would have burned down," said Larcher, "because now, we've got to liquidate everything in the house, and move into a trailer." 

The 5th-wheel trailer, 43 feet long, is on its way.

It will replace an 1100 square foot house.

"I had a feeling it might happen," said wife Rebecca Larcher, recalling their landlords called a few days after the fire and said their own home in the Fountain Grove area had been destroyed. 

Then came the knock at the door, and the 60-day eviction notice. 

The landlords are a couple in their 60's, who said they couldn't find a rental, even with a $6,000 insurance stipend to spend. 

"So how is a family of four, with two dogs and no insurance money supposed to find a rental?" posed Rebecca, "what does that mean for us?" 

Housing advocates say tenants across the North Bay are suffering. 

At Community Action Partnership, program manager Kathy Kane was assisting a woman, mother of two, who is newly evicted for falling behind on her rent after her workplace at a Napa vineyard, was destroyed.

"She was out of work for several weeks, now she's getting back to work, but it was just enough to fall behind, and she didn't have any savings," said Kane, "and unfortunately the landlord wouldn't work with us even though we tried."

Sonoma County Legal Aid says it too is seeing tidal wave of distressed tenants- on Thursday, eight people came in seeking help with new evictions. 

"Imagine trying to pack up your belongings and try to find a new place to live in a sub-zero vacancy environment," said Ronit Rubinoff, Executive Director. 

Some tenants are shoved out by eviction, as properties become more needed or valuable. 

Others are displaced by the fire itself, and most did not have renters insurance. 

"If you an owner, you still have a property. You can put up an RV or tent and do something with that, a place to start," said Rubinoff, "but if you were a tenant, you have nothing."   

For the Larcher family, the thought of liquidating their household during the holidays is heart wrenching. 

"What are we going to do with everything in this house? We can't afford to store it all," said Rebecca.

Son Jace, 12, will share a bunk bed and small room with sister Tessa, 9.

Tessa's current room is full of stuffed toys and art projects, and it's clear they won't all fit in the trailer.

Both kids have expressed fears about Santa Claus not being able to find them.

"And to think, before we got evicted, I gave money because I wanted to help the people," said Rebecca wryly. 

When she sought help, she was told her family didn't qualify for any funds or services because they weren't "directly affected" by the fire. 

But it certainly feels like it to them.  

"The people whose homes burned are better off than we are," said Jeff, "because we don't have options, and we don't have any help, and we're not the only ones in this situation."

Their next challenge: finding someplace to park the trailer, preferably in Santa Rosa or south as far as Petaluma where the children attend school.