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Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to another Letter from America, today Irene Parker has a look at the Coalition to Reform Timeshare and the petition which needs your signatures. This has been a recurring theme on our pages, the timeshare industry needs to change how it works, it is in dire need of reform, yet it seems they are not listening to the hundreds of complaints which are hitting not just forums like Inside Timeshare but many other forums, websites and FB groups that you will find on the internet. Inside Timeshare has received hundreds of emails asking for help, yet that is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The industry needs to change if it is to survive, it has created the problems yet it does not even acknowledge them or admits that there is a problem. It is responsible for the myriad of scam exit and resale companies that exist, all because it fails to police how its own sales force operates. The time for change is here, it is in your own interest to be part of this and sign this petition.

Timeshare Wars Continued

Has Diamond Resorts Offered a Compromise through Transitions?

A Petition and a Coalition to Reform Timeshare

By Irene Parker

June 14, 2019

A Coalition to Reform Timeshare (CRT) was launched to advocate for the rights of more than 9 million timeshare owners in the U.S. CRT is made up of individuals and organizations dedicated to reforming the timeshare industry.

Timeshare developers feel the industry is just fine and doesn’t need reforming. Where do you start when two sides are so opposed? How do you narrow the gap?

Our volunteer Supporters at Timeshare Accountability Group™ (TAG) feel both ends of the timeshare sale need some reform. The Change.org petition already received over 800 signatures.  Sign our petition today to show lawmakers and the Timeshare Industry at large that there is a need for change.

https://www.change.org/p/state-legislators-in-arizona-florida-and-nevada-demand-reform-of-the-timeshare-industry-s-unfair-and-deceptive-practices

After signing the petition, a prompt appears asking for a donation. I questioned how donations are spent. One of our Supporters received this answer from Change.org:

Similar to boosted posts on Facebook or sponsored tweets on Twitter, promoted petitions let you pay to show any petition (including your own) to other potential supporters on Change.org or our distribution which supports our platform as well.

Has Diamond Resorts provided a bridge between members and exit providers?

I’ve heard timeshare exit service providers say, “If the developers would just take back the timeshare, there would be no need for timeshare lawyers or exit service providers!”

Well, Diamond Resorts is taking back timeshares at a record pace. One member reported that she had to wait on hold for five hours at year end. I can’t speak for the entire universe of Diamond Resorts members, but I can speak for the Diamond members on our over 3,000 member-sponsored Facebook page.  I can’t recall one post from a member who applied for Transitions and was not accepted. Many members who successfully exited their timeshare via Transitions remain on our Facebook to advise others.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/DiamondResortsOwnersAdvocacy/

I posted asking members to share their Transitions experience. Six members responded, all positive. Veteran family Cathy McDyer posted, “We applied & were accepted when the fee was only $250. We had points & a deeded week.” One member reminded me that points or weeks purchased on the secondary market are not eligible.  

Diamond Resorts launched their Transitions voluntary surrender program late 2017. Members with no outstanding loan and current on maintenance fees can deed back their timeshare by clicking “Transitions” on their member dashboard.

Inside Timeshare has received complaints from Diamond members who say they paid an exit company to get out of a fully paid Diamond timeshare. Not only did they pay more money than the $1,000 Diamond now charges, the process will likely take longer and some exit companies require the member continue to pay maintenance fees while they try to get you out. To make matters worse, the member is no longer eligible for Transitions if they contract with an exit provider.   

I contacted the Newton Group to ask if they would consider directing their fully paid Diamond member callers to our Facebook. The first representative hung up quickly when I asked. I called back and spoke with JoAnn, who also hung up on me as soon as I asked the question.

In 2018 Wyndham filed a lawsuit listing the Newton Group as one of the defendants. DC Capital Law is also listed as a defendant. DC Capital has filed a lawsuit against the timeshare developer ARC Americano.

https://dockets.justia.com/docket/florida/flsdce/9:2018cv81251/535273\https://insidetimeshare.com/tag/americano-beach-resort/

If Diamond is accepting their timeshare points and weeks back (at least according to our Facebook members), why are some exit providers charging $3,000 or more to get a member out of a fully paid Diamond timeshare rendering them ineligible for the program?

I’ve asked exit providers to test my proposition by referring a few callers to our Facebook page. They would not need to convince the member. It could be a suggestion after, “Have you reached out to the company?” If the member would be denied, it would strengthen the argument as to why timeshare exit service providers are needed. Can you imagine the good will that would ensue if this were to happen?  It would be one baby step to solve this nightmare without dueling lawsuits.

Signing our Change.org petition will also support the establishment of a Timeshare Bill of Rights. My comments are highlighted in red.

1) The right to a 24-hour cooling-off period prior to signing a timeshare contract to allow for the review of all sales and contract information including, but not limited to, other governing documents, public offering statements and covenants that run with the land.

Timeshare buyers also need time to recover after sales sessions that last more than six hours. There have been many reports of driver’s licenses and credit cards confiscated to prevent leaving a presentation, along with other creative techniques. I would add that the buyer could waive this offer if they wished.

In debates over timeshare bills proposed this year, the timeshare lobbyists for ARDA in Arizona strongly objected to allowing timeshare buyers 24 hours to review their decision to sign a perpetual timeshare contract, despite lobbying for a 24-hour cooling-off period in Florida and Nevada when it comes to signing a timeshare exit contract.

There is no other industry that would disintegrate if the buyer were allowed 24 hours to think about signing a contract. It’s because timeshare contracts are perpetual, accompanied by rising maintenance fees, and has no secondary market. Complaints about deceptive sales abound.

2) The right to receive complete disclosure of the true market value of the timeshare, prior to the timeshare being purchased.  

Some timeshare companies do disclose this, but the buyer doesn’t read the contract. The consumer does need to do their part by reading the contract.

A major concern is the lack of a secondary market. If the primary housing market placed restrictions on the ability to sell homes, think of the effect this would have on the housing market. Some timeshare companies list in their annual reports that a viable secondary market is a risk to investors. One private equity firm even described the lack of a secondary market as a reason to buy the stock!

In summary, customers experience a reasonable value proposition tempered by the lack of a secondary market. The secondary market has undoubtedly had its growth stunted because the absence of the market creates an opportunity for the imeshare companies.

Scott Miller, Founder of Greenhaven Road Capital, Latticework

3) The right to be free of any high-pressure sales techniques and verbal misrepresentations intended to circumvent the assessment period. For example, “Today Only” offers or the requirement of any form of advance payment to attend a timeshare presentation. Developers would be prohibited from collecting and withholding a credit card, driver’s license or other items before or during the timeshare presentation.

The verbal representation clause appears in many other contracts but widely reported to be abused and overused by unscrupulous timeshare sales agents.  Three against two tag-teams are skilled at holding attendees hostage. Is the gift worth this?

4) The right to record the entire sales presentation or to require the developer to record the entire sales presentation, including the closing of the sale, and to retain the recording for a period of 24 months with no waiver.

My biggest beef is timeshare companies that record the closing session, and then hold that recording against the member, but do not allow the member to record the sales session. Some states, like Nevada and Arizona, allow recording, but the consumer on vacation mode never thinks to do so. After all, they were told they were just required to hear about a new resort.

5) The right to full transparency during the sales presentation without any waiver of verbal representations during the closing of the sale. This right also prevents owners from being required to attend “update meetings” or similar meetings if a sales presentation is conducted during this meeting.

6) The right to full disclosure of the resort owners’ association financials, as well as disclosure of any and all HOA fees, including indirect resort costs imposed on owners which may increase maintenance fees and special assessments. This right also includes yearly owner roster notifications that disclose the number of weeks or points under developer control with the HOA, not excluding resale and rentals the HOA has control over.

7) The right to have the rescission period for a contract extended to one week after a person returns from their vacation to allow appropriate family and/or legal counsel review. The rescission date would be clearly noted in the contract based on input from the consumer on when they return home.

Unfortunately, even this extension doesn’t help when timeshare sales agents are skilled in dodging the rescission period as evidenced by Tuesday’s Inside Timeshare article in which the buyer was told to wait a few months until they had made a couple of months of loan payments before applying for an exit program. Many are told of maintenance fee relief programs that do not exist. They don’t discover they were lied to until they attempt to pay their maintenance fee invoice in December.  

https://insidetimeshare.com/the-tuesday-slot-34/

8) The right to be free of sales calls from the timeshare developer before or after the sale and the right to be free of attempts by the timeshare developer to have a consumer re-activate a previously rescinded sales contract.

I think this provision is a stretch. Most companies, especially cell phone companies, have customer retention departments.

9) The right to full disclosure of the entire cost of timeshare ownership, including available interest rates, before a consumer signs a contract. This would include projected increases in maintenance fees based on the average maintenance fee increase for the past five years for an individual property.

I think the buyer has the total cost including interest as stated on the purchase agreement.

10) The right to have sales agents and timeshare companies subscribe to an industry code of ethics.

There is an industry code of ethics, but it is ignored, based on hundreds of complaints sent to ARDA ROC which they ignored. The board of ARDA consists of timeshare executives, so the complaining member is complaining to the chief wolf guarding the chicken coop. If the industry doesn’t respond to over 200 timeshare members reporting unfair and deceptive practices, what good is a code of ethics?

11) The right as a timeshare owner or vacation club member to have priority booking of reservations over the general public.

A good idea, but I think it would be hard to prove a member does not have priority.

12) The right to unilaterally terminate an unencumbered, non-deeded timeshare interest with written notice to the developer upon making the current “use year” maintenance fee payment.

To join the Coalition or share your story, go to ReformTimeshare.org. Inside Timeshare also welcomes member submissions. Speak up and speak out. Right now the only enforcement seems to be via the media and the media seems reluctant to take on the mega-money associated with the front end of the timeshare sale, so join our efforts to reach sympathetic lawmakers and members of the media not afraid of big money.    

Other member sponsored advocacy groups:

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.

https://www.facebook.com/timeshareadvocategroup/

https://tug2.com/Home.aspx

https://everythingabouttimeshares.com/consider-exchange-options/

Bluegreen Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/groups/180578055325962/

Wyndham Facebook

New: https://www.facebook.com/groups/376743609795740/  

Sapphire Starpoint New: https://www.facebook.com/login/?next=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fgroups%2F292083584642570%2F%3Fref%3Dshare

Diamond Resort Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/groups/DiamondResortsOwnersAdvocacy/

Gold Key Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1639958046252175/

Thank you Irene, let us hope that this petition really does take off, the industry is in need of reform, either they do or the lawmakers have to step in and do it for them just like in Spain.

So that is all for this week in the murky world of timeshare, join us again on Monday with Part Four of our exclusive on the truth behind Silverpoint.

The Tuesday Slot

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Tuesday Slot, once again Irene Parker highlights another complaint and explains how it should be written. This is just one in the hundreds that Inside Timeshare has been receiving, all have the same hallmarks, so it does make you wonder that if all these people are saying the same thing, yet none of them knows each other, something must be wrong. The Timeshare Industry needs to take note of these articles and ensure that their sales agents tell the truth. We can only live in hope.

How to Write a Clear and Concise Complaint

Lesson 39 from the Free at Last Timeshare Support Course

http://www.udprep.info/

All proceeds benefit the nonprofit Straight-A Guide

By Irene Parker

June 11, 2019

The first step in any complaint process is to prepare a clear and concise complaint. Complaints received by Inside Timeshare are almost always confusing, like someone describing a car accident they just witnessed. When a timeshare member contacts Inside Timeshare with a timeshare complaint, to understand the complaint, I frequently ask, “What do you mean by that?” or “Can you provide an example?”

I selected the complaint below as an example of a before and after complaint because the deception reported is brazen and easy to understand. The complaint is an actual complaint.

The member reported that they were told in order to be eligible for the company’s Voluntary Surrender program they would have to buy additional points. This was not true. Another member was told they would have to convert their deeded timeshare to points to be eligible. This was not true either.

A responsible exit program offered by the developer doesn’t help someone who learns they were duped just days or months after purchase.

Tina’s complaint is not resolved so we will not identify the member or the timeshare company. I have changed their names.

Tina said they were told they had to upgrade from one loyalty program to the next to be eligible for the company’s Voluntary Surrender program. They had been struggling to make the high interest rate loan payments. By selling them more points, the sales agent forced insolvency.

To prepare her complaint, I advised Tina not to use words like lie or scam. Put yourself in the reader’s perspective. Emotional words that cannot be proven will turn off your reader. Even if you were scammed, your mission is to write up what happened to explain why you feel you experienced unfair and deceptive sales practices. Highlighted in red are my suggestions and the reasons why I felt my suggestion would make the complaint more clear and concise.            

Tina and Tony’s complaint as prepared by Tina

Tina and Tony Smith

Our California address

Our Phone Number

June 5, 2019

To Customer Service, ARDA ROC, CEO, sales agent

Tina had started her complaint with “To whom it may concern.” Send your complaint to specific individuals or organizations. The timeshare PAC ARDA ROC does not mediate disputes but they have a code of ethics.

We are writing to demand that our last two contracts below be cancelled due to fraudulent and negligent misrepresentations that took place in Las Vegas.

Tina and Tony made four purchases. They were so angry they wanted all their contracts cancelled. It is unlikely a developer will cancel all contracts, especially those over a year old. However, if told the timeshare was like real estate and easy to sell, the member doesn’t know they were lied to until they try to sell the timeshare.   

We were deeded timeshare owners before we were falsely told we had to give up our deed and buy points. We were free and clear of any loans before buying points.

  1. In 2013 we purchased 15,000 points with sales agents N S in Las Vegas for $25,750.
  2. In 2014 we purchased 7,500 points for $24,630 in Las Vegas from Sales Agent J G.
  3. In 2016 (Contract #xxx) we purchased 7,500 points for $23,925 in Las Vegas for 7,500 points with the same Sales Agent J G.
  4. In 2018 (Contract #xxx) we purchased 8,500 points for $26,105 in Las Vegas from sales Agent R S and Manager M G (J. G’s brother.)

Our third purchase in 2016 was our second purchase from J G. The concierge said we had to attend a mandatory update meeting.

(They were not on a promotional trip. It was not mandatory to attend the meeting).

He told us if we declined the update they will be forced to have us pay for our stay even though we had booked our stay with points.

I suggested they delete “the meeting had lasted well over 1-hour” because all timeshare meetings are over one hour. Unless the meeting lasted five hours or more, it will have no bearing on a complaint.

We said that we were fine with what we had. We didn’t need any more points. J G said if we don’t upgrade now we will lose special pricing. We remembered he said the same thing in 2014, but the numbers he presented looked so good.  

We repeated ourselves and stated we are helping our daughter in college, and we don’t have extra cash. He said, “You can put the down payment on a credit card. This is a one-time deal. You will be losing thousands of dollars if you don’t accept today.”

We said over and over that we are not people who make that much money. I’m a stay at home mom who takes care of foster children and my own children. Our priority with our finances is to help our daughter with college. J G said our points will appreciate just like real estate and said that he uses the interest paid on the loan as a tax write-off.

Points do not appreciate and the interest cannot be written off. It was okay to say we are not people who make that much money in this context, but “I can’t afford it” is not a valid reason for release, any more than you can go to your home mortgage lender and say, “I can’t afford this.”

At our last Upgrade in 2018 in Las Vegas we purchased 8,500 points for $26,105 in from R S and manager M G. The accumulated loan balance is $80,117.99.

It’s best to isolate the numbers because when they get too mushed in a narration they lose meaning.

It was stated that if we pay in full over the course of the period our loan amount would increase to a total of $152,301.30. Our maintenance fees are $6,897.77. We pay our fees monthly with a credit card because it is too much for us.

The member here is referring, I think, to the total amount they would have to pay if the loan went to maturity. It’s not meaningful to mention this amount because the total amount of any loan with interest is staggering. In addition, it’s the buyer’s responsibility to read the purchase agreement. This information is clearly stated on that agreement.

I told them to delete mentioning maintenance fees.  Mentioning maintenance fees really has no bearing on anyone’s complaint unless it involves an allegation that the member was promised the maintenance fees would go down if they purchased additional points, but they went up.   

This upgrade was done with R S, and his supervisor M G. We again said we did not want to attend. We were on vacation and did not want to be bothered. Again, concierge told us we needed to attend or our stay will be charged.

R S proceeded to show us how much an upgrade would cost. I told him I wanted out of the timeshare. We had heard about and wanted to look into the company’s voluntary surrender program.

He told us that in order to be eligible for The Voluntary Surrender program we needed to upgrade to have enough points to be eligible.

This is real deceit. This voluntary surrender program does not require purchasing any additional points.

He showed us numbers on how much our timeshare company would pay us for our points if we become eligible for the Voluntary Surrender program. We asked why we needed to upgrade to be eligible. He said, “You have to be a Platinum member to be able to get out of our timeshare company.”

(In no way do you have to be a Platinum member to be eligible for this Voluntary Surrender program.)  

We stated we couldn’t afford this. We can barely afford to pay for our maintenance fees. He said “What’s another $300 more on your loan payment? That isn’t too much to upgrade in order to be able to get out.”

We repeatedly told the agents that we don’t even have the money for a down payment. He said we could look to see if there are credit cards available. I said, I don’t want to charge this, why do I have to put a down payment? He said, “We need a down payment because there is no other way to upgrade you guys without one.”  

He said once we upgraded, we would need to make a couple of payments before applying for the Voluntary Surrender program.

(The rescission period was dodged by telling them to wait a few months before applying.)

He came back and asked if we know anybody that has another timeshare we can put that on your file to become Platinum.

(This is in reference to a program that allows the member to include other timeshares. The points credited count towards Platinum status.)

I said my sister does. (Adding your sister’s timeshare does not qualify.) I asked him if this was normal. R said, yes of course and said to ask his manager M G. M G smiled and nodded when we asked as he was passing by, “Even if we don’t own the other timeshare?”

We made a few loan payments and then applied for the Voluntary Surrender program, per R’s instructions. We got denied because we had a loan. We were not informed the timeshare has to be paid in full to be eligible for the Voluntary Surrender program.

We called the company (on my advice) to ask why we are Platinum members if we only have 38,500 points. Platinum requires 50,000 timeshare points. The agents had said that we are Platinum because of adding my sister’s timeshare. They said it would be part of “Declared Inventory.” The company representative said that she never heard of this and would need to check into it. I was put on hold for so long, I hung up.

We thought and believed that we were signing a contract in good faith and that our agents were honest. They were not. We are a family of 6 with one income. We will no longer fight in silence and will do everything we can to help others in our situation by reaching out to the media and to Representative Katie Porter. I will be filing a complaint against R J G and M G with the Nevada real estate division, the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI, and others.

Please contact me if you wish to discuss our complaint,

Tina Smith

(The complaint should be signed by the family member best suited to deal with this mess)

Tina’s original complaint was one long paragraph. When you read published articles, paragraphs are usually short. When too many sentences run together you can lose your reader. I learned this from my editors at TheStreet, Jim Cramer’s investment news service. One editor often told me, “Don’t bury the lead!” meaning state up front what you want your reader to know. I still hear his voice in my ear when I have buried the lead.

I always suggest you have a friend or neighbor not familiar with your complaint read it to see if it makes sense. Only a handful of the 900 complaints I have read have made sense to me when I initially read them.

Thank you to Tina and Tony for sharing their timeshare financial disaster. We will follow along and let our readers’ know how this family fares.

Timeshare can be a great product for the right reasons and for the right family. When a timeshare member references a volume of online complaints, I tell the member that for every unhappy member, there are 100 who think the timeshare company is wonderful. They may not have been deceived. Just because there are honest agents, it doesn’t mean there are not dishonest agents that should be stopped. Those who have had a positive experience should not judge those who have experienced unfair and deceptive sales practices. There will always be those who blame the victim.  

Join one of the timeshare member support groups. If there are none suitable, consider starting one.

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.

https://www.facebook.com/timeshareadvocategroup/

https://tug2.com/Home.aspx

https://everythingabouttimeshares.com/consider-exchange-options/

Petition to reform timeshare

https://www.change.org/p/state-legislators-in-arizona-florida-and-nevada-demand-reform-of-the-timeshare-industry-s-unfair-and-deceptive-practices?fbclid=IwAR1n3m6kFW-xs6qtC4zKhHz1AC0gXWWDlBo2Ba6AWlXEPqlZsrIU2G-DU0A

Bluegreen Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/groups/180578055325962/

Wyndham Facebook

New: https://www.facebook.com/groups/376743609795740/  

Sapphire Starpoint New: https://www.facebook.com/login/?next=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fgroups%2F292083584642570%2F%3Fref%3Dshare

Diamond Resort Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/groups/DiamondResortsOwnersAdvocacy/

Gold Key Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1639958046252175/

Related article: Complaint Instructions revised by a millennial member who resolved her timeshare dispute:

https://insidetimeshare.com/fridays-letter-from-america-39/

Thank you Irene, all we can hope for is that this dispute is resolved and that Tina and Tony can enjoy a stress free life outside of timeshare.

One thing we must point out, we are not anti-timeshare, we do believe that for many it could be a good product, it is the greed of the sales agents with the blatant use of untruths that is the problem. A problem that can only be solved by the timeshare companies themselves.

Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to this week’s edition of Letter from America, following on from our previous articles on the timeshare bills put forward by Florida and Nevada, Attorney Mike Finn submits his thoughts on this subject with the introduction by Inside Timeshares very own Irene Parker.

But first, a reminder that today is the first day of the Platinum Protest in Orlando, even if you can’t make it, please enter your support for them on the Diamond Resorts Owners Advocacy page on Facebook. We hope to bring you a report from them next week.

Lawyers and Their Important Role in Consumer Protection

By Attorney Mike Finn

Why You Should Sign our Petition asking a lawmaker to sponsor a Bill in 2021 requiring that timeshare buyers be offered 24 hours to review a perpetual timeshare contract before signing.

By Jordan Raskin

May 17, 2019

Our petition preparing to launch:  

https://www.care2.com/?fbclid=IwAR3w3tungUxAWYjY3fSro_WJBRUKB9pe99LiJ_9ur8T5WZOyC9wHsyswqZc

Provide the timeshare consumer 24 hours to review, at least think about, their decision to sign a lifelong perpetual contract, with no secondary market, often without even having tried the product, and often not allowed access to the booking site until after the rescission period.

This offer could be waived if the buyer chooses, either due to the certainty that the buyer wants the product, or the need to sign because the vacation is ending soon.

This offer should not be buried in the electronic fine print. It should be a separate disclosure presented and signed before the sales presentation. The price per point offer would be required to be maintained for 24 hours.

What’s so unfair about that?  

Introduction by Irene Parker

Never mind a lawyer! We’d settle for our mom, dad, son, or daughter!

Both the Florida and Nevada Bills referenced in Mike Finn’s article below, asking that timeshare exit providers provide buyers 24 hours to review their contract before signing, died in committee: Florida HB 2639 and Nevada SB 348 bill are dead  

SB 1430 Companion Bill to Florida HB 2639 Vacation and Timeshare Plans

http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2019/01430

SENATE – Died in Innovation, Industry, and Technology

How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? There are legitimate lawyers and lawyers with questionable business practices. I have contacted a number of exit company providers to inquire about the volume of calls they received. Two of the major exit companies say they receive between 3,000 to 3,500 calls each month from timeshare buyers desperately seeking release from timeshares they were told would be easy to sell. Each company only accepts less than 200 callers as clients, as the member must meet specific criteria of unfair and deceptive sales practices.  

Before we begin with Mike Finn’s article,  

If you are going to be in the Orlando area this weekend May 17-19 Friday – Saturday, please support our Platinum Protestors. Locations and dates provided: https://insidetimeshare.com/fridays-letter-from-america-49/

Now onto:

“Why Kill All the Lawyers?”

By Attorney Mike Finn

“Add to that advantage the fact that the purchaser purchases on the same day they’ve been introduced to the product with no ability to consult with or review the multipage purchase contract with their own legal representative and you can begin to understand the owner/purchaser’s situation years later when they ultimately seek to terminate their arguably lifelong contractual obligations contained within their timeshare purchase contract.”

It’s hard to say anything about lawyers that haven’t already been said. They are both revered and reviled as staunch proponents and champions of justice or as avaricious opportunists. The profession is comprised of all types, from the most learned jurists to the slightly seamier side of humanity. We lawyers share the same spectrum of positive human qualities and negative frailties as the rest of our species.

The import of this article is less related to the issues of lawyers individually, but rather to the role of the attorney as consumer advocate within the legal system. I speak to the issue of what removing lawyers, or significantly diminishing their role to effectively represent their consumer clients, does to strengthen or weaken consumer protection in general, as a matter of national policy.

Currently, there is pending in at least two states with a significant timeshare presence, Nevada and Florida, House and Senate Bills sponsored by ARDA, the timeshare industry’s trade association. Ostensibly, per the statements made by ARDA’s political arm, ARDA-ROC (American Resort Development Assoc.-Resort Owners Coalition), the primary intent of these Bills is to enhance consumer protection. However, to some of us on the consumer side of the equation, we suspect there may be a darker, more industry serving purpose. These Bills seek to regulate two separate and quite distinct groups, lawyers and timeshare exit companies.

There can be no argument that some regulation is warranted, specifically in regard to the unlicensed and unregulated timeshare exit companies; however, this ‘shotgun style’ approach of lumping-in lawyers with this proposed legislation will if passed, create some chilling and decidedly consumer-unfriendly impacts on the timeshare consumer/owner.

To further distinguish these totally disparate entities, lawyers are already both licensed and extensively regulated by their respective State Bar Associations. Additionally, as lawyers, (and unlike exit companies) we are specifically trained and educated to handle matters involving contract disputes, as well as debtor/creditor rights issues and other relevant matters that may well arise in the course of a controversy. Without getting too far into the weeds, I think it’s fair to state that the pending State Bills are clearly designed to severely limit and restrict the involvement of both timeshare exit companies and, from my perspective, more importantly, lawyers, in terms of their ability to provide services to timeshare owners seeking third-party assistance in terminating or modifying their timeshare purchase contracts.

To summarize the owners’ plight, many owners didn’t realize that their purchase contracts did not include a way to terminate their contract when they could no longer utilize their timeshares because of life changes, like aging, job loss, divorce, death of a spouse, or other major life changing events. This issue wouldn’t be so troublesome if it were not for the fact that there exists little to no resale value or market for these timeshare interests, trapping owners who cannot continue to derive any benefit from their ownership, but remain legally bound by their purchase contract, subject to annual rising maintenance fees and other contractual liabilities.

The ‘timeshare exit’ industry sprang into existence to fill the market void created when the timeshare developers themselves were unwilling to offer owners relief from essentially ‘lifelong and perhaps beyond’ contracts. This exit industry includes lawyers who focus on consumer timeshare owner issues as part and parcel of their law practices, and exit companies, non-lawyers who claim industry knowledge and apparent ability to act on behalf of timeshare owners in their negotiations with timeshare developers or property owner associations.

The focus of this article will remain on the lawyer and not the exit company. It’s important to distinguish between these two different kinds of organizations and avoid comparing the two. They are completely and totally unlike and should not be combined or grouped together in these Bills. It’s impossible to make any logical form of comparison beyond stating that each seek to represent the consumer timeshare/owner in dealing with the respective owner’s timeshare situation. Combining the two and treating them as equals in proposed legislation is grossly inaccurate and inappropriate. It only adds to consumer confusion!

Attorneys have undergone extensive education and training and have prepared for and passed a state mandated Bar examination in order to prepare themselves for dealing with contested and controversial legal issues. Our legal system is by definition adversarial in nature. Justice involves a process by which parties on each side of a controversy present, through their selected legal representative, their respective position to an impartial determiner of the facts in order to produce a just outcome. Indeed, our very symbol of justice is a robed and blindfolded woman holding a scale aloft in her hand.

Each side, through its appointed legal representative, presents its best case to the referee, hearing officer, or judge and jury. At the end of the contest, the winning side, through presentation of evidence and persuasion, tipped the scales in its favor. This is our legal system, or at least the portion of it that decides controversies. Add to our justice system the requirement that each side starts off with a level playing field. Neither side has gained an unfair advantage prior to the contest commencement. As a condition of fundamental fairness, may the side with the most compelling case for justice win!

What can skewer the ‘level playing field’ aspect of the justice model, is if one of the players gets to the game before the other side, gaining a one-sided advantage. Arguably, that’s exactly what the Timeshare Developer has been able to do. Since the state requires the Developer to register and apply for a license to market timeshares within that particular state, the Developer has prepared its purchase contracts and other disclosure documentation and submitted them to the appropriate state agency well in advance of its initial sale. It’s probably fair to suggest that these purchase agreements were prepared by an able team of lawyers with the Developer’s best interests in mind. In fact, the only remaining task for the Developer’s sales team at the time of consumer purchase is to fill in the blanks on the preprinted purchase contract with the purchaser’s name and other pertinent information.

Add to that advantage the fact that the purchaser purchases on the same day they’ve been introduced to the product with no ability to consult with or review the multipage purchase contract with their own legal representative and you can begin to understand the owner/purchaser’s situation years later when they ultimately seek to terminate their arguably lifelong contractual obligations contained within their timeshare purchase contract.

Now that you can envision, from the consumer’s perspective, the un-level playing field that the consumer finds themselves on at termination time, and add to that the circumstances that would exist if the Timeshare Developers are successful in passing these new laws. These Bills, if passed, would further restrict the consumers’/owners’/members’ ability to seek justice within the legal system, if the lawyers’ ability to represent the consumer is constrained and restricted.

From where I sit, as lawyer representing timeshare owner/consumers, it appears that the timeshare industry is dissatisfied with its already existing unfair advantage over their consumer and still seeks to tilt the field further in their favor. My advice to them (not that I anticipate them appreciating any of it) is to show a kinder, gentler aspect to your loyal owners by either recognizing and permitting an easier contract termination, or, at minimum, not further attempting to restrict their right to effective legal representation as they seek relief from their onerous timeshare purchase contracts.

Respectfully submitted,

Michael D. Finn, Esq.

Thank you Mike and Irene for this week’s edition of Letter from America, these articles are certainly helping many timeshare owners see exactly what is going on in the murky world of timeshare.

If you have any views or comments on any article published then use our contact page we would love to hear from you. Do you have a story to tell, be it a positive one or a “Nightmare on Timeshare Street”, which you would like to share, then contact us and we will help you to submit an article.

Well, that is all for this week, remember the Platinum Protest and show your support, have a great weekend and join us again next week.