After several long days of searching for an apartment near her office, Nancy Flowers, an executive secretary at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, thought she had found the perfect place: a charming flat behind a beautiful old Altadena home that came complete with mountain view, orange grove and swimming pool. The rent was just $400 a month.
“The landlady told me she really wanted to rent it to me because I had ‘good vibes,’ ” Flowers said. “The apartment was absolutely gorgeous. I gave her $1,000 cash for first and last months’ rent and security deposit.”
She wasn’t the only one who fell in love with the place.
Since April, 1984, at least 51 people have rented the same apartment, according to a Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigation. Nine would-be tenants showed up in just one day--Sept. 21--to move into the apartment, Sgt. Rick McKeon said. Among them were newlyweds just back from their honeymoon.
The “landlady,” Regina Navarro, 46, is now in jail in lieu of $25,000 bail and is scheduled to be arraigned in Superior Court on Oct. 11 on 11 counts of grand theft. McKeon said he expects additional charges to be filed.
Deputy Public Defender Judith Crawford, who has been representing Navarro, declined last week to comment on the case. She said another attorney will be handling Navarro’s case in the future.
Last April 15, misdemeanor charges were filed against Navarro in connection with earlier bogus rentals of the apartment, Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Court said. As she awaited trial on those charges, he said, she rented and re-rented the apparently irresistible apartment to more tenants. The case has been postponed several times and has yet to be tried.
McKeon said Navarro has returned about $25,000 to tenants but still owes at least $35,000. “There may be more tenants out there,” he added.
Navarro is a tenant in the main house, and the flat at the rear was in fact rented all along to another tenant--for $625. The tenant had no idea that his apartment was being shown during the day while he was at work, authorities said.
“I knew a tenant was living there when I was shown the apartment,” said Flowers, who tried to rent it in October, 1984.
“But Mrs. Navarro told me that he was moving out in a week and then I could move in. So I gave her $1,000 in cash right then. When I called back the next week, she told me that her son and the tenant and a stepdaughter and a niece had all gone to Mexico, and all of them had been killed except the tenant, who was lying in a hospital.”
In the following weeks, she said, Navarro’s woes proliferated each time she tried to arrange a date to move in. “She created so many tragedies that I was sympathetic to her,” Flowers said. “Once when I arrived, she was crying and told me she was just too upset to talk.”
It was not until three months later that Flowers sought and won a $1,500 decision against Navarro in small claims court. She said Navarro had yet to pay her.
McKeon said other prospective renters heard a variety of maudlin excuses from Navarro when they tried to move in. On various occasions, he said, Navarro claimed to be on a kidney dialysis machine and said that family members had died in auto accidents. At least one renter sent the landlady a sympathy card, McKeon said. He said his investigation found no truth in the tales.
Mary Henley, who with her husband, William, owns the Altadena home, said Navarro had lived in the house for three years and had paid her rent faithfully.
“We’re in shock,” Henley said. “This just doesn’t make sense. We feel so foolish. Gina (Navarro) told us she was going into real estate. What we didn’t realize was that it was our place she was renting . . . and renting . . . and renting.”