TEAM 10: Lakeside man says unsafe construction, criminal element next door

Posted at 11:04 PM, Sep 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-20 12:06:46-04

Al Massey is a retired San Diego Police Sergeant and Vietnam veteran who earned a Purple Heart on the battlefield. He's never backed away from a fight, but never imagined his Lakeside neighborhood could turn into a war zone.

Massey claims the house next door on Aquilla Drive is a "flop house" and he says the woman who owns it  continuously breaks the law by violating building codes while taking in multiple tenants.

Massey says some of those tenants are on the wrong side of the law.

In April, Lance Benson, who rented a room in the house, was arrested for the stabbing death of another man. Neighbors saw the body laying on a sidewalk across the street.

Twice, there were fires on the property. While Massey believes they were set purposely, no arrests were ever made. 

Massey and another neighbor have surveillance video of one of the fires. 

"It got so bad in this neighborhood with break-ins, fires and thugs, drug addicts, going up and down the street, we started taping everything," Massey said.

Massey told Team 10 he provided investigators from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department with video that shows residents from the house setting the fire but says it was never investigated as arson. 

"They don't want to deal with the complaints. They don't want to enforce the law, and I'm not going to stand by and see my family injured or our house burned to the ground because the County of San Diego will not get off their ass and do something," Massey stated.

Team 10 visited the house which is surrounded by makeshift fences and no trespassing signs. Pieces of rotting fence and rusty metal surround the property, as do several cars and a camper parked on the side of the house. We spoke to six different people who confirmed they rent rooms from Rebecca Zulauf, who they say does not live there.

We tried to reach Zulauf by going to each of her three properties and calling several phone numbers, most of which were disconnected. Team 10 left messages on the lines that were still in service, but got no response.

Court documents show Zulauf filed for and was granted a restraining order against Massey. In her complaint she wrote that the former police sergeant is aggressive and threatens "to cause me bodily harm". She claimed she was so distraught after one run-in with Massey that she suffered a heart attack.

"I truly feel Respondent is going to kill me," she wrote in 2014.

In his own court filing, Massey calls the restraining order "harassment". 

"Ms. Zulauf chronically makes false allegations against me, my family, and others," he wrote.

Massey was ordered by a judge to stay 20 feet away from Zulauf and her property.

"I worked for years making sure San Diego residents did not have to live with stuff like this. Believe me, I would love to enjoy my retirement and time with my family, but they're a danger with this crap," Massey said while pointing his cane at Zulauf's property.

Team 10 requested documents from San Diego County which show the Planning and Development Services Department is doing something. In May, Zulauf received an administrative warning from the San Diego Code Compliance Division. The notice said she was operating a group residential home in a neighborhood where that is not allowed. It also noted several walls, a bathroom and a patio enclosure had been constructed without the proper building permits. Zulauf was also told to remove all solid waste, including strewn trash, scrap wood, wire, outside stored appliances and construction debris.

When the corrections weren't made, the County issued a Civil Penalty Notice and Order on June 30. It says Zulauf could be fined $1,000 per day for code violations. So far, the County says she owes $65,000 in penalties.

Zulauf is appealing the order, which means she will be granted a hearing to plead her case. 

Team 10 reached out to San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who Massey claimed hasn't been much help to him and other neighbors concerned about the house on the corner. Jacob issued this statement: 

"I sympathize with residents who have endured the conditions and activity at this house for far too long. I've been working with county staff and the community to resolve this issue, which includes thousands of dollars in fines, but we're dealing with a property owner who insists on dragging this out instead of being a good neighbor."   

Massey said "I'm not going to stop until the law is enforced properly. I'm not going to have my family losing their lives because of that crap."

Tuesday on 10 News at 6 -- Why a house owned by the same landlord just a couple blocks away is now boarded up, while the one next door to Massey remains open for business.