Approximately 30 concerned residents and real estate professionals came together recently to express their frustration with rental scams occurring in East Chula Vista.
A meeting held by Chula Vista City Councilman Rudy Ramirez and the Chula Vista Police Department Monday focused on scams involving foreclosed properties.
Several residents living on Babbling Brook Road in Rolling Hills Ranch said tenants living in the homes have caused disturbances in their neighborhood.
One woman who was arrested Monday afternoon by the District Attorney’s Office was connected to 31 rental scams in Chula Vista.
Dianne "Harmony" Brown is the woman who many residents said they had encounters and confrontations with because of her illegal practices.
Real estate agent Steve Lemack with Realty Executives said after “doing everything we were supposed to do” to secure a house it’s not enough.
"There's got to be something (a process) in place," he said. "There needs to be some kind of communication between the police department and the process of filing fraudulent deeds."
Brown cut off realtor lock boxes, broke into homes and re-keyed locks before renting homes to victims.
Lemack said she verbally threatened him and his family, and they now fear for their safety.
One Babbling Brook resident, who asked that his name not be printed, said the scams have been going on since 2008.
"Nobody has done anything," he said. "It's been inexcusable that the city has done nothing … I think it’s a failure on the police department."
City Attorney Glen Googins said police don’t have the tools to deal with rental scams, which are more of a civil matter.
"They (officers) can’t make the determination of a valid deed,” Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano said. “There’s a structural level of communication for this.”
Googins said his office became involved in early January after meeting with members of the Pacific Southwest Association of Realtors, who said they were dissatisfied with how the police were handling the situation.
Michelle Macawili said there’s a perception that officers don’t care and their actions are “too little too late.”
Googins said his office is looking at amending city ordinances to allow for trespassing arrests as a preventive measure.
Brown, 45, filed more than 50 false deeds on foreclosed properties and faces 61 felony charges including burglary, filing a false instrument and possession of methamphetamine, according to the DA’s Office.
She was arraigned in San Diego Superior Court Tuesday and if convicted faces 39 years and eight months in prison.
A resident who had encounters with Brown said her arrest doesn’t shut the operation down.
“The blueprints are set,” she said. “They are still operating.”
Googins said his office is working on proactive measures to stop scams before they start. He said his office may alert area locksmiths to be aware of scams involving the changing of locks. “Problems can get worse once people get in and occupy the property,” he said. “Then it becomes that much more challenging from a legal process standpoint to get them out.”
Googins said his office is also working on getting property owners early notification from the county recorder when changes in deeds occur, best management practices to secure properties and an advanced authorization to arrest form.
“None of these things are magic wands —that’s the problem,” Googins said. “But we think all these things together would help.”
Staff from the City Attorney’s Office and police department will give presentations to council on an apartment safety complex project as well as how to identify best management practices at its Tuesday, Feb. 14, meeting.
Brown’s bail was set at $275,000 by judge David Szumowski. A preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 22.