The only single-room occupancy housing in Sonoma County soon will be a thing of the past.
Owners of the historic Hotel Petaluma on Kentucky and Washington Streets are returning the building to its original use — a traditional hotel for overnight visitors.
The move was met with criticism by some of the hotel's 104 mostly lower income residents who will be displaced. But it was embraced by those who say Petaluma needs more hotel rooms, especially downtown.
Marin County property owner Terry Andrews bought the 1923 building five months ago after the former owner lost it in foreclosure. Andrews raised rents and soon began a series of improvements to the aging building and its dreary rooms.
Some of the tenants protested the rent hikes and several moved out — most, he said, because he instituted a no-smoking policy throughout the five-story building.
By spring, Andrews hopes to have the entire building converted to rentable hotel rooms available from $65 to $90 a night.
Although not officially low-income housing, the hotel has traditionally housed tenants of lesser means. The small rooms, which have no kitchens and many with shared bathroom facilities down the hall, have rented from as low as $200 to $795 a month.
Some tenants lived there short term, others stayed for years and some used it as a flophouse.
Andrews said a lack of on-site management and little oversight of the clientele allowed the hotel to decline. He said he began to realize he needed to make wholesale changes to make his multi-million dollar investment work.
"We decided we could no longer have the long-term tenants there," he said. "It'll cause a little controversy, but it's not working ... It's sad but there's just no other way to handle it."
He said many of the tenants had gotten used to eating in their rooms, bringing in bottles and cans, stuffing their rooms with furniture and never airing them out.
"For a lot of the rooms, especially for those who'd been there for a while, there had been no maintenance," he said. "The carpets are dirty, the walls are dirty and they're full of smoke."
Late last week, short-term tenants were given 30-day notices to vacate while longer-term residents must be out by April 15, he said.
Several tenants have sought help from Petaluma Peoples Services Center, a nonprofit organization that assists lower-income residents with landlord-tenant disputes and helps them find housing.
Executive Director Elece Hempel said many tenants have improved their living situations by qualifying for housing at the newly opened Vintage Chateau senior citizens complex.
"We do have some rental assistance money," she said. "We'll move them up the priority list to help them."
Andrews said some of the hotel's remodeled rooms have been converted to daily hotel rooms that are available now and others will be as soon as possible.
He said he would like to negotiate a deal with the city to rent space in the city parking garage on Keller Street for the hotel's overnight guests. He was in discussions with the city for permits for the common-area bathrooms, but he said the new use won't require further city approvals.