Hotel Petaluma evicts residents, returns to overnight format

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, while others stayed for years.

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 multimillion 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."

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