Welcome to another Letter from America by our very own Irene Parker, this week we revisit our series on the 3 Rs and 1F of Timeshare, but first a word of caution brought about by some very disturbing emails received by Inside Timeshare.
These emails are all concerning companies our readers have paid to “relinquish” their timeshares, all being told that the “exit notification letter” being sent on their behalf is all that needs to be done and they are now timeshare and maintenance free. They are told they should not engage with the timeshare company or need to pay any further maintenance fee.
Unfortunately this is not the case, several of our readers have paid a certain company who shall remain nameless at present, but they know who they are, to exit their membership with Diamond, around three years ago. These readers are still getting demands for maintenance fees along with a surcharge for interest. They are also being threatened with court action and a debt collection agency.
The company concerned with these exits tells the clients that they are free of their timeshare and to “DO NOTHING, PAY THEM NOTHING”. “That Diamond would not take court action because they knew they could lose given the dubious selling practices and the fact that no court would allow a company to insist on payments for a product the owner cannot use”.
We know that Diamond does chase unpaid maintenance, the debt is usually passed to Daniels Silverman a Market Leading Debt Recovery Agency, based in Liverpool. So it is not Diamond who take the “debtors” to court, but Daniels Silverman on behalf of their client Diamond.
If you are told to stop paying your maintenance fees until you have official notification from your timeshare company that your contract and membership has been cancelled, then failure to pay puts you in breach of contract.
It is also known that Diamond will not deal with these “exit” companies, they have their own system in place and will deal direct with the member. Remember no matter what these companies tell you, they are not “lawyers”, they do not know timeshare, all they know is how to take your money.
Now for this weeks Letter.
The 3 Rs or F of Timeshare Revisited (prior revision February 16, 2018)
By Irene Parker
November 16, 2018
Our Timeshare Advocacy Group™ advocates brace for when timeshare companies hit the “send” button as millions of maintenance fee invoices hit inboxes.
February 16, 2018, when this article was previously published, we had heard from 300 readers since we began counting January 2017. As of November 14, 2018, we have heard from exactly 600 readers. Not one of our readers was aware of the limited to no secondary market for a timeshare. This often triggers a complaint.
There is rarely a need to pay anyone money to get you out of your timeshare. Special circumstances, or if a member requests an attorney, we refer to one of the law firms we know and trust, if the timeshare company refuses to help. Seeking legal counsel is the right of every citizen if they feel they have been harmed, as is filing regulatory complaints.
If you have a complaint, our “How to File a Complaint” form explains a process that takes time, determination and effort, but when it works, it costs nothing. We say when, because no one wins them all.
Timeshare companies cry, “Don’t call an exit company! We have your best interest at heart!” What the timeshare company means is:
Don’t call an exit company because it interferes with our recycled inventory process! Let us foreclose! We make collection calls to you no more than twelve times a day. (Six to each spouse, as has been reported)
When exist companies boast, “We can guarantee you release!” beware that that guarantee may include foreclosure. You don’t need to pay anyone to foreclose.
Our complaint form: http://insidetimeshare.com/the-tuesday-slot-11/
Our goal: Convert an angry, desperate, overwhelmed and confused member into an empowered member. Timeshare Advocacy Group™ has 44 core advocates, including a team of reporting advocates to answer questions about regulatory and, if needed, law enforcement filings. All of our Advocates are unpaid.
The First R: Relinquishment
Some timeshare companies offer voluntary surrender programs, but relinquishments are not guaranteed and there cannot be an outstanding loan or delinquent maintenance fees.
Before relinquishing, check with a member of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association to find out if your timeshare can be listed with one of their members. http://www.licensedtimeshareresalebrokers.org/
LTRBA members charge nothing up front, so they don’t waste your time or money by listing a timeshare that, in all likelihood, will never sell.
The Second R:
A refund is not easy to come by, but in cases of serious and obvious fraud; a refund may be achieved. The complaint process begins with a petition to the resort, followed by the filing of regulatory and law enforcement complaints.
The timeshare lobby ARDA has a Code of Ethics. Not one of the 600 members who have contacted us could tell us what the letters ARDA ROC stand for, yet collectively give about $5 million a year to ARDA ROC. ARDA stands for American Resort Development Association and ROC Resort Owners Coalition. The money comes through “voluntary” opt-in or opt-out donations. This $3 to $10 amount, which varies depending on the resort, appears on all maintenance fee invoices purchased in the U.S. if the developer is an ARDA member. Despite our advocates and members forwarding approximately 200 complaints to ARDA, questioning ARDA’s Code of Ethics, there has been no response.
ARDA’s Code of Ethics:
The intent is that all member activities subject to the Code are designed to be honest and fair, and are conducted with integrity, dignity and propriety. http://www.arda.org/ethics/
Litigation can take years and often the amount of money at stake doesn’t justify the time and expense litigation requires. Some developers have a class action ban, forcing arbitration. There are many critics of arbitration, including Minnesota AG Lori Swanson:
“The right to have your dispute resolved before a jury of your peers is as American as it gets; it’s a fundamental core American democratic principle,” says Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. “To think that millions upon millions of consumers are forfeiting their fundamental right to have their day in court because of fine print in a contract….”
Chris Parker, a reporter for City Pages writes: “Should a dispute arise, arbitration forces consumers out of the court system and into arbitration where appeals aren’t allowed, corporations historically wield a huge advantage—and details of misconduct are kept private,”
Timeshare buyers should check immediately after signing a contract to see if they can opt out of the arbitration clause. Probably only a lawyer would think to do so.
According to the FBI agents and attorneys we spoke with, it is not legal for a company to hide behind fine print, providing sales agents the means to say anything they can come up with to sell points. With little enforcement in some states, deception prevails. Families after family have no option but foreclosure, if they have a loan outstanding. Most members contacting us do.
The Third R
It doesn’t happen very often, but there is the possibility the member just doesn’t know how to use the booking system. Blanket statements like “You can always book online cheaper than using timeshare points” are not accurate. My husband and I are Diamond owners. We have often booked two weeks in Sedona or Orlando for less than it would cost booking online using our points.
I ALWAYS tell members when they say, “After we signed we read all these negative complaints!” that there are just as many and more who use and enjoy their timeshare.
This is the least pleasant outcome, but foreclosure is not the end of the world. We’re working on a document for those who experience foreclosure to provide to credit rating agencies or lenders, detailing the patterns of complaints listed with the Better Business Bureau, Attorneys General, and lawsuits.
If you foreclose, there will be a hit to your credit score, but if you feel you are a victim of unfair and deceptive sales practices provide the credit rating agencies or your lenders with the reason why you refused to pay off a timeshare loan. Lenders are human. Many will take this into consideration.
I asked timeshare attorney Mike Finn of the Finn Law Group some common questions we are often asked about the foreclosure process:
Will the timeshare company try to ruin my credit for non- payment of maintenance fees, loans or both?
Mike Finn: Generally no credit reporting on maintenance fees, yes they do on “mortgage” payments. Most timeshare property owner associations, which are separate non-profit entities, do not report non-payment of maintenance fees largely because they don’t maintain subscriber contracts with the credit reporting agencies. However, once referred to collection, those agencies do maintain subscriber relationships and that’s where the issue becomes relevant.
Can members be taken to court for non-payment of maintenance fees or loans?
Mike: Can yes, will, maybe not so much
Do they place liens for non-payment of loans?
Mike: Yes in the sense that they do pursue foreclosures, yes for maintenance fees as well.
Does the lien apply just to the timeshare, or does the lien apply to a member’s primary residence as well?
Mike: The word ‘lien’ can be utilized in more than one way. In the timeshare world it typically means the security interest filed against the timeshare itself by virtue of nonpayment of maintenance fees. Only the timeshare interest itself is impacted by that kind of lien, not the owner’s property beyond the timeshare. A mortgage lien on the timeshare caused by non-payment of the initial purchase price can, under certain circumstances, become a judgment which could be satisfied by going after the defaulting party’s personal assets. This very rarely happens, but it has happened, so we can never, say never. A foreclosure on your credit report is quite damning, it will make refinancing or new residential purchases an issue for about five years. Rarely will they sue for deficiency balance.
Our Advocates, bringing experience and expertise from all walks of life, are here to help you put your timeshare in the rear view mirror, if that is your goal.
We seek to provide timeshare members a way to proactively address membership concerns; to advocate for timeshare reform; to obtain greater disclosure from the company; to advocate for a viable secondary market; and to educate prospective buyers.
Thank you Irene, useful as always, in the Tuesday Slot next week, we will have another “Secret Shopper” report, edited by Pete Gibbes the Secret Shopper Coordinator, so join us for another insight into the murky world of a timeshare presentation.