On 7 July, Market Exclusive published an article reporting on the financial statements issued by Marriott. (See link at the end). After the preamble they began by announcing they had identified “Fraudulently Induced Electronic Payment Disbursements”, which resulted in $9.9 million resulting from unauthorized third-party access to their email system. They duly notified law enforcement and relevant financial institutions, commencing an investigation.
They have managed to recover $3,2 million, but are hopeful they will recover the rest. Now this is just a start in their report.
They have also acknowledged they are recording pre-tax litigation expenses of $16.3 million, these are to settle in principle, two actions in their North American business with the Petrick action and an owners action brought by those with fractional interests at the The Ritz-Carlton Club, Lake Tahoe. It will also include actions by owners of Marriott timeshare interests in Spain.
The litigation on their Spanish business is a result of the laws Spain has brought in to protect consumers, this law known as Ley 42/98, was enacted in January 1999 and invalidated many timeshare contracts sold after that date.
Marriott, as many other timeshare operators believed, that by filing a deed of adaptation they would be able to continue as before, but they were sadly wrong. It took many years and court battles to get to the stage Spain is at now, the strongest timeshare laws in Europe.
So what makes these contracts illegal?
Many timeshare operators continued to sell perpetuity contracts, when the law stipulates they should be of a minimum of 3 years and a maximum of 50 years. They also continued to sell the floating weeks and points systems, which gives the purchaser no actual rights apart from the right to use subject to availability. With the fractional ownership, the Supreme Court clearly regarded this as timeshare, as usage was dependent on a points system being allocated. Fractional was designed to “replace” timeshare with the promise of “purchasing shares and investing” in a real estate property, but again in Europe timeshare should never be sold as an investment.
We have seen over the past few years many other companies falling foul of this legislation, Anfi, Palm Oasis, Holiday Club / Puerto Calma and the Diamond run resort Cala Blanca in Gran Canaria, Silverpoint in Tenerife and a host of others all over Spain. Marriott is just the latest to be hit by timeshare owners becoming aware of the laws and finding they now have a way out of the never ending cycle of upgrades and maintenance payments.
Marriott, have also conceded that this litigation is going to cause them to incur considerable and “material and litigation” costs, along with the settlements and judgement costs. They have also admitted that it will have a severe effect on their results in the European sector and will have repercussions on their business and financial condition.
The one thing Marriott along with others in the industry are still saying, is they all disagree with these rulings, that the law as interpreted by the 126 rulings of the Supreme Court are wrong, they are seeking to introduce legislation “that will implement a more balanced approach”. More balance, or do they mean going back to when they believed they could not be touched and did exactly as they wanted.
Although they do go on to say the following “The timeshare laws, regulations and policies in Spain may continue to change or be subject to different interpretations in the future, including in ways that could negatively impact our business”. Negatively impact their business, well they only have themselves to blame, had they sold within the regulations, they wouldn’t have to worry about negative impact!
On this point of Marriott and others in the industry lobbying for a change in the law, this has now been set by the Supreme Court, the only way that the law can be changed now is for the Spanish parliament to pass new ones. This is very unlikely to happen, even if it were to happen, then we would end up with many years of court cases and appeals to the Supreme Court to clarify any new laws.
At present the law firm which is responsible for the clarification of the law with now 127 rulings from the Supreme Court, Canarian Legal Alliance, has many cases upcoming against Marriott. These cases are only now just starting to take place, CLA have at least 2 cases already presented at court with around 30 in the final stages of presenting to court. They are also looking into new clients cases, all these contracts are in perpetuity and use the point system, so this figure is surely set to rise.
On the point of the Supreme Court rulings, Canarian Legal Alliance began seeking clarification from the Supreme Court well over 7 years ago, they eventually received their first victory against Anfi in March 2015. This case involved the Norwegian client Mrs Tove Grimsbo, it was a long drawn out case, but the precedent had been set. Within weeks of this first ruling, many more followed, setting in stone the laws that for many years had been interpreted differently depending on the court and the judge presiding.
It will be interesting to see whether Marriott go the same way as Anfi, Silverpoint and others in constantly appealing against any rulings made against them, or will they just payout and cut their losses?
Only time will tell, we will certainly be keeping an eye on these cases.
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