More News from Across the Pond

With the US Presidential election now coming to a close over the next week, Irene Parker, who collaborates with Inside Timeshare on matters which affect timeshare on both side of the Great Lake (or Pond as our American friends call it), has sent in her most recent article.

It very much focuses on the political game that is affecting timeshare in the US, showing how it splits into Republican and Democrat, as she explained, the industry is very much pro Republican, the Trump camp, the Democrats seem to be supported by the timeshare owners. We should not be surprised by this.

Irene has very often commented on the documentary “The Queen Of Versailles”, the wife of the owner of Westgate, David Siegel. It shows the 90,000sq ft property they have been building as their home. It is quite staggering, with a walk in wardrobe (sorry closet), bigger that most homes in Europe. Irene has in many writings dubbed herself “The Peasant of Venice” in contrast to The Queen. Have to admit Irene does have a great sense of humour. Irene claims it’s not humour if one studies Polish and Russian history and the need for peasant uprisings.

Irene opens her article on the New York Manhattan Club, when the Democratic New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman halted trading of timeshare. As you will see from her article, it is a very murky world indeed, the lines between timeshare and politics are blurred to say the least. Enjoy her article it reveals a lot.

Timeshare Battles Split Down Political Party Lines

October 26, 2016

By Irene Parker submitted to Orlando Sentinel

Democratic New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman made headlines taking on presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Trump Foundation. Mr. Schneiderman claimed the Foundation did not meet certain administrative requirements necessary to receive donations in New York.

In addition to challenging Trump, Mr. Schneiderman has also taken on another developer and billionaire, Bruce Eichner, and Eichner’s Manhattan Club timeshare. Mr. Schneiderman halted timeshare sales at the Manhattan Club due to allegedly fraudulent sales practices involving a “bait and switch” scheme. Manhattan Club buyers learned there was a lack of availability for those who purchased memberships, while the general public could easily book online. A court battle that began in 2014 continues today.

The New York Post unleashed an onslaught of criticisms against Mr. Schneiderman accusing him of picking his fights based on political motives.

Republican Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi created her own headlines when she accepted a $25,000 donation from Donald Trump while considering whether to participate in a Trump University investigation. Her investigation was dropped after receiving the donation.

There is an eerie similarity between Trump U and timeshare sales, illustrated in an extraordinary CNN interview between Trump U salesperson James Harris and CNN investigative reporter Drew Griffin. Not all timeshare sales agents are predatory, but complaints about overly aggressive sales tactics abound.

In the CNN interview, Harris is accused of exploiting the elderly by selling them classes averaging $34,000 and then “up selling” them to attend more classes. In rogue timeshare presentations, an average timeshare week costs $25,000 and after the initial purchase, owners are barraged to purchase additional points or weeks.

Republican lawmakers Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, and state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland sponsored timeshare legislation that went into effect July 1 2015 making several technical changes to the Florida Vacation Plan and Timesharing Act.

The bills sparked outrage among timeshare owners and advocates claiming it made it more difficult for owners to be released from perpetual contracts signed after hours long hard sell sales presentations. The most onerous change objected to is the clause that states developers are not responsible for “non-material” errors in timeshare contracts. Stargel and Eisnaugle say the changes will stop what developers call “frivolous lawsuits”.

The timeshare lobby organization American Resort Development Association ARDA supported the Florida legislation. According to ARDA, “Consumers can challenge a developer’s position with Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), the state agency that regulates timeshare. In every case, DBPR’s mission is to protect the interests of timeshare consumers.”

Timeshare attorney Mike Finn of the Finn Law Group does not hold out much hope for owners pursuing this course. According to Mr. Finn, only 110 out of 2,360 complaints filed with the Florida’s DBPR Timeshare Division between April 2014 and April 2016 were acted on.

“Perpetual contracts are not in themselves bad. Whether you buy a home or a shirt, the contract is perpetual. The difference is the lack of a secondary market for some timeshare owners and a very limited resale value for some, if not all, timeshares,” Finn explained.

ARDA donated $5,000 to Eisnaugle’s Committee for Justice and Economic Freedom PAC, more than $300,000 to the Republican Party of Florida and about $150,000 to the state’s Democratic Party, resulting in a net $150,000 donation to the Republican Party of Florida, according to the  Orlando Sentinel.

ARDA maintains Pam Bondi is firmly on the side of the timeshare owner. According to ARDA, “In the past six months, the industry has seen the passage of landmark timeshare resales legislation (thank you to Attorney General Bondi and her staff), dozens of investigations and arrests made by DACS related to timeshare resales fraud.”

“Along the same lines, expect increased educational efforts to come from the state and the industry that will put consumers in a better position to make good decisions about how they sell their timeshare interests.”

My husband and I are Diamond Resorts timeshare owners. We are unable to sell our timeshare due to restrictions the developer has placed on the use of vacation points purchased on the secondary market – restrictions considered more onerous than most timeshare company restrictions. Members of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association refuse to buy or sell Diamond Resort points.

As for the Manhattan Club investigation, “The investigation is proceeding,” said New York attorney Douglas Wasser. Mr. Wasser represents 29 members of the Manhattan Club. The Manhattan Club appealed a ruling from a lower court in which the defendants were denied their request to conclude the investigation and also appealed the decision to allow depositions. “Attorney General Schneiderman’s investigation does not stop because of the appeals”, said Mr. Wasser.

I asked Greg Crist, CEO of the National Timeshare Owners Association NTOA if he holds out any hope for an industry that seems to be creating more and more disgruntled owners.

“Some of the best companies that operate in the timeshare industry are Disney, Hyatt, Marriott, Starwood, and Hilton. These are the leaders who set the bar higher with regard to standards and a culture imported from the hospitality side of their businesses. Although the trends seem to indicate the pure timeshare companies are making gains in terms of customer satisfaction and delivery on the sales promise, surveys continue to show they have a way to go to catch up to branded hospitality companies overall.” Crist said.

Sadly, timeshare seems to have been split down party lines. Timeshare sustainability is in question if the industry has been reduced to a political contest between timeshare owners and developers. What industry can hope to survive when customer relations is often a battlefield mired with controversy.

Inside Timeshare would like to thank Irene Parker for her insights into this strange world of timeshare and politics, it certainly looks as if the two are linked and that just like politics, timeshare is split into two camps, the developer and the consumer. This is very much the same as in Europe, the industry versus the consumer, with the might of industry lobbying the politicians for regulations that suit them. Somehow there needs to be change, at least this is happening in Spain, with the laws very much in favour of the consumer, regulating the industry as to how the product is sold.

If you have any questions or need any information on any article published, or just want to know how to check out any company, Inside Timeshare is here to help.

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