East Chula Vista resident April Davis said she's been harassed by neighbors ever since she moved into her home earlier this year. Actually, something was amiss before then.
Davis said that when she was shown the home by her landlord, Dianne “Harmony” Brown, neighbors came outside and began taking pictures, video and directing expletives at them.
Brown would subsequently be arrested Feb. 6 by the District Attorney’s Office and is accused of filing more than 50 false deeds on foreclosed properties and then renting them out.
Davis said that shortly after moving into the home she shares with her daughter, her circuit breaker box was broken into and the power was cut, causing a fire inside the walls that required an electrician to repair.
“It was someone who knew what they were doing,” Davis said.
Davis, 47, isn’t alone. She and other people who have rented from Brown say they have been characterized as illegal tenants who don’t belong in the neighborhood.
“We are legal tenants who pay rent and utilities like everyone else,” she said. “We’re not squatters.”
Holly Hayes, who has lived in one of Brown’s home since September, said Brown is only helping other people.
“I believe in Harmony as long as she sticks to the path of doing for the greater good,” Hayes said.
Allegations of Brown’s rental scams and her alleged illegal tenants were the topic of a community meeting hosted by
Chula Vista Councilman Rudy Ramirez Feb. 6.
During the forum real estate agent Steve Lemack said Brown threatened him and his family.
Lemack, along with residents of Rolling Hills Ranch, said they wanted police to remove people they believe are squatting in foreclosed homes, which Brown is alleged to have acquired illegally.
During a phone interview Wednesday, Brown’s daughter Tiana Jones said her mother is innocent.
“This is wrong,” Jones said. “She’s being looked at like a greedy criminal. She’s never been in any kind of trouble with the law.”
Jones said her mother’s titles to the homes are not false.
“I was there for many of those recordings and they were notarized,” she said. “She didn’t just slap her name on these homes. Those are her houses.”
Tension between homeowners and Brown’s tenants has been high.
Chula Vista Police Capt. Gary Wedge said that Babbling Brook, one street where some of Brown’s properties are, has had eight calls for service and one traffic stop since Jan. 1.
Hayes said that during a call for service last year, police treated her like a squatter.
“I don’t feel like I get the service I deserve because of where I live,” Hayes said. “And I’m not OK with that.” Davis said that when police have responded to calls about her, she’s been asked by officers to produce a lease to verify her tenancy.
“I felt like I was under investigation,” Davis said.
Davis, Hayes and others said they are taking their stories to the media and other organizations. So far they’ve enlisted the aid of real estate broker Gloria Tyler-Mallery and Carolyn Zellander, a community organizer with Move.org. Both women said they feel banks are to blame for leading homeowners down a path to default, which subsequently leaves foreclosed homes empty.
“We want equal justice,” Zellander said. “The banks are foreclosing on homes that they do not own and using fraudulent documents such as robo-signing.”
Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano said in a statement, “Brown’s arrest starts the process of returning properties to their rightful owners.”
Some of Brown’s tenants have already been evicted, leaving others wondering when and if they will be next.
For her part, Davis said she does not feel safe. She said she has had to purchase an alarm system and secure her electric and phone boxes with locks.
“We’re all kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place,” she said.