- New Mexico Family Services is a private business providing a range of community services.
- NMFS settled a lawsuit against the city in 2016 over lease terms for two buildings.
- On June 15, a district court judge ruled in the city’s favor, telling NMFS to leave and pay back rent.
SUNLAND PARK — Lourdes Torres stood in front of a cinderblock office building with a replica electric guitar adorning its front, and declared victory in her latest skirmish with the city Monday morning.
For several years the building has been the home of NM Family Services, a community care center providing a range of services. Earlier this month, a court ordered them to leave and pay back rent to the city, but Torres said she has filed an appeal of the judge’s writ seeking a temporary restraining order, averting eviction for now.
According to state records, NM Family Services, LLC was founded in 2014. It leased two city-owned locations on McNutt Road where it provided community services including meal service, as well as medical and behavioral health services through licensed contractors.
Besides the “guitar building” on McNutt Road, NMFS leased the Senior Citizen Center next to City Hall, where Torres said meals are served.
In 2016, Torres sued the city for breach of contract, claiming the city’s maintenance of the buildings prevented the business from obtaining required state licenses for its operations. She also alleged in court that Isabel Santos, who was a city council member at the time, actively interfered with NMFS’ efforts to establish its services for senior citizens.
The case was settled after it was moved to federal court in 2016; but four years later, Torres sued the city again, alleging violations of its $200,000 settlement that involved poor maintenance of the buildings and alleged bad faith by the city.
Torres claims the city’s actions were intended to prevent her from obtaining required licenses and funding.
The city said NMFS made unauthorized modifications to a bathroom and built a partition for an office. The city said the partition did not meet construction standards, and it sought to restore the bathroom to its original design, claiming the project was part of an effort to establish a non-approved child day care center.
In 2019, the New Mexico Child, Youth and Families Department issued a cease-and-desist letter to NMFS for providing day care services for an estimated 18 children without a license. Court records show that Torres refused to sign the letter, and she told the Las Cruces Sun-News the letter arose from a false complaint.
City council members Alberto Jaramillo and Jeffrey Cox declined to speak about the matter, as it is currently in litigation. Mayor Javier Perea, City Manager Michael Martinez and the city’s Community Services Department did not respond to queries Monday.
Torres says the city has maliciously denied business licenses to her business and used that as a basis for kicking NMFS out. The city maintains in legal filings that NMFS has not had an active business license since 2018.
“They’re sabotaging my opportunity to extend my lease,” she said Monday.
Under amended lease agreements, NMFS rented each property for $100 a year, with an option to renew annually for three years at a fair market rate when the leases expired in 2021, provided NMFS met certain conditions including maintenance of a senior community center.
The city claims in court filings that NMFS did not fulfill its obligations. It stated that NMFS failed to operate the senior center and instead provided unlicensed child care services and made unauthorized modifications at both buildings while operating without a city business license.
In January, Torres requested the city renew each lease for five years at the same $100 annual rent. In court, the city filed a copy of a Feb. 17 memo denying the request and asking NMFS to leave upon the expiration of the current leases. This was followed by three-day notices in April and May for each property.
The city asked Third Judicial District Judge Manuel Arrieta for summary judgment to evict NMFS. On June 15, he granted their motion, ruling that NMFS had violated its lease and dismissing a claim by Torres that the city had agreed to exchange rent for in-kind services. He ordered NMFS to vacate both buildings and pay the city $92,706.69 in back rent.
Torres insisted Monday that her settlement agreement with the city allowed for an open-ended lease arrangement and in-kind services in lieu of rent, and vowed to press her case in court.
Last Friday, she said she received notice that the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office would come Monday morning to evict her. A few patients and staff demonstrated with signs in front of City Hall on behalf of NMFS in response to the news.
After filing an appeal and a temporary restraining order request to stop enforcement, Torres said patients scheduled to receive psychiatric services Monday were rescheduled to spare them a potentially stressful scene. However, no sheriff’s deputy was present at the building Monday morning.
“I’m just so tired of it,” Torres said of the long-running dispute with the city; yet holding on to the location was worthwhile, she said, for continuity of services and access to public transportation.
Without a business license, she said NMFS is not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements and that her business has been absorbing the costs of service. Asked how the business has survived under the circumstances, she said, “There is a greater god up there” and declined to offer further details about the center’s funding.
Torres said NMFS serves about 10,000 clients.
In 2020, she told the Las Cruces City Council NMFS takes referrals from numerous providers and maintains offices in Las Cruces and Alamogordo as well as Sunland Park. She addressed the council during a work session to discuss a possible collaboration with the city to prepare and distribute meals locally and host cooking classes.
On Monday the Las Cruces Quality of Life Department said it is currently working with another vendor.