The new owner of the historic Hotel Petaluma has begun a major update of the only single-room occupancy housing in Sonoma County.
Terry Andrews of Marin County bought the five-story 1923 building in October in a foreclosure sale after former owner Robert Miller, also of Marin County, defaulted on his loan.
Formerly a hotel, the building has long been an apartment complex where residents rent small rooms without kitchens. Some share bathrooms. Although not an official low-income housing complex, many of the tenants have been of lesser means.
The property, worth just under $5 million, according to county property records, also includes several ground-floor businesses along Washington and Kentucky streets, including TAPS brew pub.
In late October, Andrews notified the 104 tenants of rent increases averaging about $40 that took effect this month, worrying some about what his plans for the building might be. Rents at the hotel will range from $675 to $795 per month.
Some residents complained to the city and others sought help from a local social services group that assists in landlord-tenant disputes. But after the initial uproar subsided, Andrews assured them he has no plans to convert the building to any new uses.
"No, we're not throwing people out," he said this week. "We're doing massive amounts of work to the place."
Bonne Gaebler, the city's housing administrator, said rents used to be in the $200 range, providing an affordable, private option to government-subsidized or rent-controlled housing.
"But that's not the case any longer," she said. "When real estate values went up, their prices went up. It's a private-sector issue that works itself out."
Nonetheless, Petaluma People Services Center, a nonprofit human services group that contracts with the city, intervened.
Some tenants were upset, thinking that Andrews was going to turn the hotel into something else, said Executive Director Elece Hempel. Others had the impression their low rents were protected.