Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
The Candy Lady can spend one last Valentine’s Day at her longtime Old Town store.
After that, though, she’ll have to craft her confections elsewhere.
After 30 years in the same location – 524 Romero NW – Debbie Ball was told by a Metro Court judge on Wednesday that she had to vacate the building by Feb. 28.
In an eviction hearing Wednesday, Judge Frank Sedillo said he hoped Ball and her landlord might still come to an agreement that keeps Ball in place. Failing that, he said Ball could stay through the end of February since Valentine’s Day is so important for candy makers.
Ball had asked the judge to give her 90 days but said after the hearing she was grateful she could keep operating on site through Valentine’s Day.
“That is my busiest day of the year,” she said.
Ball’s landlord, Robert Simon, declined to comment after the hearing.
But he said in court that the eviction was the result of Ball’s failure to enter into a written lease.
Simon said he already had signed a lease with a new tenant who is set to take over the property upon Ball’s departure. He did not identify the tenant.
On Wednesday, Simon outlined a series of events preceding the eviction notice.
His family’s trust bought the property in 2001. Ball, the existing tenant, refused to sign a lease at the time, he said, because she was struggling with the tourism dropoff in the aftermath of 9/11.
The landlord-tenant agreement remained informal for 12 years, he said, with rent expectations changing a few times. Simon alleges Ball underpaid by $38,000 since 2009, though he isn’t seeking any restitution.
Last October, Simon said, he determined it was time to enter into a more formal agreement. He said several factors contributed to that decision: The economy had improved, Ball’s worldwide profile had grown due to her manufacturing a “Breaking Bad” meth lookalike candy, and he wanted to do right by the trust’s beneficiaries, his and his brother’s children.
But Ball never signed the lease despite what he said were repeated attempts to compel her.
After warning her that her tenancy would end Nov. 30, she was granted permission to stay through December so she could do business during the holidays.
“I think we’ve done everything humanly possible to accommodate the dictates of the law and also meet the needs of Mrs. Ball,” Simon said. “If we’ve erred, we’ve erred on the side of compassion.”
But Ball’s attorney, Brian Colón, argued that Ball – whom he described as “a somewhat unsophisticated tenant” – was in frequent contact with Simon and his brother since October and thought that amounted to negotiation. Letting her stay through December only confused the matter more, he said.
Colón also pointed to the money Ball had spent on building repairs – nearly $9,000 last September alone.
Ball said she plans to find a new place in Old Town and indicated in court she was already looking at a few locations.
Asked afterward if Feb. 28 gave her enough time to move out, she said: “Not really, but it will have to be. … If that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is.”