TCPA Class Action Against Marriott Vacation Club for Phone Solicitation.

TCPA Class Action Against Marriott Vacation Club for Phone Solicitation.

As timeshare travel nears its 60th year of existence, consumers are beginning to grow tired of the sale. While most of the class action lawsuits we’ve covered pertain to the purchase itself, some filings occur when timeshare solicitations cross the line. This was the case in 2017 when Cheri Astrahan submitted a TCPA Class Action against Marriott Vacation Club for constant phone solicitation in California.

Can Consumers Win Excessive Solicitation Lawsuits?

When it comes to telemarketing tactics, many sales orientated operations use auto dialers as a quantitative method for reaching mass amounts of people in short periods of time. Companies that do this often care little about first impressions. The product or service they’re selling usually has a compelling lure that leads to further purchases down the road. In other words, the return is worth it to them.

Whether it be damaging or monetarily fruitful, telemarketers have to understand that consumers have rights that can be executed if phone solicitation becomes too excessive. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), passed by Congress back in 1991, was specifically put in place to enforce the National Do-Not-Call Registry and prevent unpermitted solicitations. Auto-dialers, faxed ads, spam texts and pre-recorded voice messages are also thoroughly regulated.

How Marriott Found Themselves in a TCPA Class Action.

According to the TCPA Class Action against Marriott, Astrahan claims she was bombarded with repetitive calls on her smartphone from the hotel chain’s auto dialer system for more than a year – despite being registered with multiple do-not-call lists. The lawsuit went on to claim she never even gave Marriott consent to contact her directly, let alone with advertisements about timeshares. 

After hearing the pre-recorded messages on multiple occasions, the plaintiff said she repeatedly asked Marriott to stop calling, “thus revoking any prior express consent that had existed and terminating any established business relationship that had existed,” says the TCPA Class Action against Marriott. It went on to say, “Despite this, the defendant continued to call the plaintiff in an attempt to solicit its services and in violation of the National Do­-Not-­Call provisions of the TCPA.”

The Marriott Lawsuit Serves a Bigger Purpose.

The goal of the lawsuit is to represent anyone in the United States that has continued to receive unwanted timeshare solicitations from Marriott over the previous 4 years. Those that have repeatedly denied consent and are registered on do-not-call lists could be rewarded for damages up to $1,500 for Marriott’s solicitations. The plaintiff is also seeking a court order to regulate the hotel chain’s ability to contact consumers for timeshare offers

At the end of the day, Cheri Astrahan simply wants prominent organizations, like timeshares, to be held accountable for their aggressive sales tactics. You can learn more about the TCPA Class Action against Marriott with the following information: Cheri Astrahan v. Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp. d/b/a Marriott Vacation Club, Case No. 8:17-cv-02139, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

California Timeshare Owners File Diamond Class Action Lawsuit.

California Timeshare Owners File Diamond Class Action Lawsuit.

When it comes to class action lawsuits against timeshare companies, unhappy buyers are usually frustrated by a lack of disclosure or because they’ve been being lied to. Whether they can prove their claims or not, most point out the level of inconvenience and the amount of money the product has cost them. Rarely do vacations owners ever go into detail about the way a timeshare makes them feel. The grief of the purchase can be rather shameful and a recent Diamond class action lawsuit in California sheds some light on why.

After purchasing a timeshare membership more than 5 years ago, Rejean and Gisele Fournier struggled to enjoy the travel perks that Diamond Resorts (DRI) sold them. According to the lawsuit, the couple was under the impression they’d have access to a certain amount of points that could be used towards multiple accommodations at a variety of resorts across the country. But the Riverside county residents claim this was not true. 

By the summer of 2015, complaints had already been filed with Diamond about their inability to use their points on certain dates and in locations that were supposed to be available. But it didn’t provide them with a solution. According to the Diamond class action lawsuit, the Fournier’s were then told they would need to purchase a “platinum” membership in order to improve their experience. If they wanted to speak to someone directly, then they’d have to attend an owner’s update meeting.

The Reality of Owner’s Update Meetings.

After arriving at the meeting, the plaintiffs quickly came to the conclusion that Diamond was not interested in their concerns. According to the couple, the resort doubled down on their conditional upgrade offer and pressured them into signing it. What made the process even more excruciating was that they felt they were being mocked by Diamond’s representatives the entire time. The lawsuit furthers their claims by stating the plaintiffs also felt, “bullied, manipulated and intimidated into signing a new contract.”

This completely caught the Fourniers off guard. They didn’t even bring a credit card to the meeting because they thought they were going to be heard. Instead, Diamond’s staff purportedly laughed at every mistake the couple made – resulting in insurmountable “stress, embarrassment and humiliation.” According to the Diamond class action lawsuit, Rejean and Gisele honestly felt as though they could not leave the meeting without agreeing to the upgrade.

Upgrading Diamond Timeshare Didn’t Solve The Problem.

Following their signatures, the credit card they had on file was allegedly charged for $2K and the monthly expense of their timeshare almost doubled. Sadly, the upgrade did not produce the results that the Fourniers were looking for. At this point, they had seen enough and simply wanted to end the agreement. After several failed attempts to do so over the phone, they tried sending a letter to Diamond to cancel future bookings and cease the membership altogether. 

It is stated that Diamond responded by sending Californians an $814 invoice that was due within days of its arrival. According to the lawsuit, DRI even conveniently reminded them that late payments would incur fees. No matter how many timeshare cancellation letters they wrote, Diamond allegedly would respond by denying termination requests, reiterating owner obligations and demanding payment. The plaintiffs even claim they’ve been harassed by the company after asking them to stop.

Final Plaintiff Presumptions and Total Cost.

Up until the filing date of their Diamond class action lawsuit, the Fourniers had paid more than $6K in timeshare fees and over $45K towards their principal balance. The couple believes they would have never even signed up for the product if high-pressure sales tactics didn’t deceive them – let alone upgrade the purchase. 

Aside from the emotional stress and grief, the Plaintiff’s class action officially accuses DRI of violating the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, Telephone Consumer Protection Act, False Advertising Act, California Truth in Lending Act and the California Welfare & Institutions Code

This is not the first Diamond class action lawsuit of it’s kind as there are currently a number of ongoing investigations into their sales practices. You can find out more about this specific case under: The Diamond Resorts Timeshare Membership Class Action Lawsuit is Gisele Fournier, et al. v. Diamond Resorts International Club Inc., et al., Case No. 5:17-cv-00911, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Resorts Accused of Illegally Charging Timeshare Closing Costs in MO.

Resorts Accused of Illegally Charging Timeshare Closing Costs in MO.

Despite the millions of tourists that travel through Bransen, St. Louis and the land of the Ozarks every year, the Missouri timeshare industry continues to boom with deceit. Because of this, many visitors are swindled into buying a vacation property they don’t exactly understand. Most find themselves stuck in something they don’t need or can’t use the way they had hoped. But when timeshares allegedly start illegally charging timeshare closing costs, like Resort Sales Missouri and Spinnaker Resorts are being accused of, then something has got to give.

Last year, Midwestern vacation owners filed a class action lawsuit against the above timeshare sales organizations for allegedly breaking Missouri state law by assessing closing cost fees. Closing costs for a timeshare may be charged when a timeshare transfer occurs or is sold for documentation preparation and/or legal fees – but doing so is only allowed in states where it’s permissible. The proposed $1.3 million class action settlement aimed to benefit owners that made the purchase on or after 6/1/2014.

Unlike some class action settlements, those purportedly victimized by the sales process didn’t have to do anything to receive more information. The plaintiff’s representation added nearly 7K class members to the lawsuit automatically. Owners were notified of their inclusion in the class action order and given the ability to exclude themselves within 30 days. Each confirmed member of the class action suit will receive a monetary payment based on the amount of the timeshare closing costs charged by the defendant.

Details of the Settlement and Payout Schedule.

The final hearing for Darrell and Kathleen Thompson v. Resort Sales Missouri Inc. and Spinnaker Resorts Inc., (Case No. 1746-CC00203, in the Circuit Court of Taney County, Missouri) was late last year. Defendants found themselves on the hook for $1.4 million and were ordered to begin payments within 10 business days of the “Preliminary Approval Date” by depositing $19,976 into a trust account of the Claims Administrator. Once this went into effect, they had 10 more business days to deposit the remaining balance of $1,380,024. Hopefully this sends a message that charging timeshare closing costs is a terrible idea in Missouri.

Class Action Lawsuits for Timeshare Closing Costs Are Costly.

The initial balance was portioned to cover “all estimated fees and expenses necessary” for class notice or administration incurred and approved by the court. $896,357 of the second payment went towards “Net Settlement Proceeds” and nearly $477K covered litigation expenses ($10K) and attorney fees (33% of settlement). Remaining totals were used for “Incentive Awards” and other claims administration funds. Any funds left unclaimed will be “dispersed in cy pres, with the court accepting suggestions on the organization to whom such additional funds shall be dispersed.”

The court was given 30 days to terminate the agreement if the settlement wasn’t honored or further problems arose. The State’s Attorney General, Eric Schmitt, didn’t provide much insight as to why developers were charging timeshare closing costs. “Missourians sometimes are targeted by real estate developers and resort communities to buy vacation timeshares,” he said. Until timeshare companies are held accountable for arguable practices, it’s hard to expect this type of activity to cease anytime soon.

Wyndham Files Counter Suit Against Timeshare Owner’s Representation.

Wyndham Files Counter Suit Against Timeshare Owner’s Representation.

A majority of the lawsuits we cover on our blog have to do with vacation owners seeking restitution. Whether the outcome results in a settlement or an extensive legal battle, many plaintiffs simply want to get out of their timeshare agreement. But what is one to do when the timeshare company (defendant) has their legal team file a lawsuit against your lawyers? This is what some Wyndham owners are facing after going through with a lawsuit against them in Missouri. 

According to Freddie Francy (the lead plaintiff in the initial class action suit), Wyndham is attempting to intimidate them into dropping their claims against the prominent hospitality conglomerate. But it doesn’t appear to be working. The class action accuses Wyndham of wrongfully assessing and charging a multitude of timeshare owners for $350 worth of processing fees. 

Why Are Wyndham Owners Upset Over $350?

The plaintiffs, led by Francy, claim the mandatory expense was “a violation of Missouri state laws and constitutes a deceptive form of legal business.” In turn they believe they’re legally entitled to a full termination of ownership. It appears that Wyndham doesn’t agree and they’re taking action to tie up their owner’s representation in a Federal lawsuit in Florida. Although both matters have yet to be settled in court, the sequence of events is rather telling. 

Those opposed to Wyndham’s stance had this to say about the matter: “The Florida case, and others filed like it by attorney defendants, has been instigated for the improper purpose of intimidating those timeshare owners who dare to assert their legal rights and attorneys who assist defrauded timeshare owners into silence and inaction and fear of public participation, and to chill access to counsel and to the courts for victims of timeshare and travel club fraud,” reiterated the plaintiffs.

Additional Details About Wyndham’s Sales Pitch.

According to Francy, those fighting the charges should have never been in this position to begin with. He believes aggressive sales strategies and deceptive marketing efforts placed them between a rock and a hard place. The timeshare presentation was so long that he felt like he had to make a purchase just to escape the demonstration. The ability to “sell his timeshare for a profit” is what was said to have closed him on the deal.

The Wyndham class action lawsuit went on to say Francy was, “detained at the sales presentation against his will for a lengthy period of time. The extended, unreasonable, lengthy time period of the sales presentation constituted duress and coercion to force the plaintiff to make a purchase before he was allowed to leave the premises.”

Did Additional Statements Get Under Wyndham’s Skin?

At first glance, most of these accusations are fairly common in previous lawsuits filed against the industry as a whole. Unexpected fees, for the most part, result in conflict with timeshares. But there was a loaded phrase in the lawsuit filing that probably elicited the retaliation of Wyndham’s legal counsel. It said, “Wyndham along with its counsel, have preyed upon the elderly and less sophisticated buyers to wring billions in profits in exchange for ‘worthless’ timeshares, vacation points, and memberships in travel clubs.”

Since most of the class action members have been financially devastated by Wyndham’s timeshare product, Francy doesn’t appear to be too interested in how the lawsuit makes them feel. He claims the purchase has negatively impacted people’s credit scores and their ability to pay other bills. After committing to a financial obligation of more than $134K for his timeshare, Freddie is looking for a full refund and determined to get it. Can you blame him?

The lawsuit was filed (and can be viewed) under Francy v. Shutts & Bowen LLP, et al., Case No. 20CA-CC00062, in the Circuit Court of Cass County, Missouri. The attorneys representing the Plaintiff et al – and now facing Wyndham in Federal Court – are David Vaughn, W. Todd Newcomb and M. Scott Montgomery of Montgomery and Newcomb LLC. You can find more information regarding the countersuit at docketbird.com. Feel free to share additional findings below.

Florida Timeshare Tax Breaks Are Goal of Proposed Legislation in Orange County.

Florida Timeshare Tax Breaks Are Goal of Proposed Legislation in Orange County.

Every year, timeshares in Orange County (OC) incur about $175 million in property taxes. This is a big number that 2020 hasn’t been kind to. The barriers set by COVID-19 have drastically hindered tourism in Florida – especially in OC. Although local resorts own about $9 billion in taxable property and the industry itself has profited nearly $10 billion year over year since 2017, somebody is looking to lessen this tax obligation quickly. But will OC respond to a timeshare tax break like Maui County did?

According to the Orlando Sentinel, many people that have been involved in Florida tax breaks in the past are (said to be) clueless on the origin of a new proposed legislation for such. The OC Property Appraiser was first notified of the (potential) legislation’s language after it was leaked to the Property Appraisers in Sarasota and Osceola County. Their legal advisor, Robert Grimaldo, had this to say. “If passed, this will negatively impact tax assessments on timeshares.”

Altering the Way OC Appraises Timeshare Properties.

So what does he mean? In a nutshell, the article explains how lobbyists have been used in the past to help persuade the majority controlled Florida legislature to benefit timeshares. If you dig a little bit yourself, you’ll find that the proposed tax breaks involve some of the same concerns Osceola Country brought up in a lawsuit against Wyndham and won. In 2017, Marriott, with the help of ARDA and other Florida lobbyists, was able to successfully persuade lawmakers to rule in their favor with a similar approach.

Although this proposal appears to be moving quickly without much public information, questions still need to be raised. At the end of the day, why are multi-billion dollar timeshare companies being considered more than struggling vacation owners during this time. Like we’ve pointed out numerous times over the past few months, timeshare companies haven’t done much to help those that paid them for an unusable vacation.

Instead, some entity involved in the industry is focusing on the way appraisers determine the property value of timeshares so they can save money. No matter where the proposed tax break came from, the measure is looking to force OC appraisers to value timeshare properties based on resale prices. The problem is, as the past has continuously proven, there are not enough legitimate resale transactions to develop accurate valuations. Because of this, current law forces a property appraiser to look at new sales prices for the valuation.

Price of Re-sold Timeshares Vs. Newly Sold Contracts.

It’s important to keep in mind that a timeshare on the resale market is significantly cheaper than a new purchase, many being listed for $1. There’s a reason why timeshare organizations sell their product the way they do. Almost no one is actively looking to buy one these days. In other words, a proposition like this smells extremely fishy. 

Calling for property appraisers to create valuations based on a few cheap resales (by people who just want to get rid of the liability) and not thousands of new, $20K+ sales is nonsensical. Nonetheless, many believe it to be justified. But is it because they believe it’s fair or are they benefiting themselves?

Costly Special Assessments Could Be Coming Soon.

If timeshares can lower their tax bills and force owners to pay a high mandatory special assessment, 2020 won’t be all that bad for them. Last year, we did an article about a new Florida legislation that increased the ceiling of assessment costs. This means, the companies operating out of this state are set up well to recoup their losses in 2021.

Rob Kelley, a Wyndham legal representative, shed some light on his pitch to lawmakers. “With timeshare assessments, the present scheme is like solid gold for the taxing authorities,” Kelley said. “Because they’re reaping a tremendous amount of tax paid by people who don’t live and vote here.” It appears he might be communicating that voters aren’t affected – so what’s the big deal? 

It’ll be interesting to see what vacation owners get in the mail at the end of this year.

116 Wyndham Timeshare Employees Laid Off in San Antonio Since April.

116 Wyndham Timeshare Employees Laid Off in San Antonio Since April.

Over the past several months, timeshare companies have likely been scrambling to find a way to acquire new vacation owners. With the vacation market at a standstill, they’ve been unable to pitch their product to easy-going, loose-spending tourists. In fact, travel restrictions are also affecting current owners that have already paid for their 2020 interval – causing millions of people to second guess the major purchase. Despite the industry’s ability to profit billions of dollars every year, 116 Wyndham timeshare employees have been laid off in their San Antonio office since the COVID outbreak.

A barren sales pipeline and a steady increase in complaints have unsurprisingly resulted in further cost-cutting decisions by timeshare companies. While some decided to terminate or furlough “unnecessary” workers right away, others waited to see how the pandemic would play out. Now that major hotel chains are forced to deal with cancellations and mismanaged inconvenience, it appears they’re slowly shifting from offense to defense. At the same time, it also appears they’re more interested in defending their wealth than the effect of the virus on their employees.

The Gradual Decrease of Wyndham’s Working Class.

“The lodging industry in San Antonio is one of the hardest hit in the state,” said Paul Vaughn, the senior V.P. at Source Strategies (local hotel consulting firm). While it’s easy to criticise Wyndham based on earnings, we will commend them for spreading out the reduction of their working class. The 116 layoffs at their San Antonio locations (Club Wyndham Riverside Suites and La Cascada) strategically began after travel bans started to chip away at Wyndham’s revenue projections. 

96 members of Wyndham’s marketing and sales team were already laid off at both resorts prior to their recent COVID update. On July 27th, a letter to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) stated that on August 7th and 8th, 20 more Wyndham timeshare employees were let go. Although the “depressed hospitality industry” is certainly impacting the business, timeshare operations are still collecting payments from owners. So why are timeshare companies wasting more time explaining staff reduction reasoning when they could be focusing on retention

Wyndham’s human resource director in Virginia, Dan Williams, seems to seek pity in the company’s letter to the TWC. “The workforce reduction is a result of new unforeseen business circumstances resulting from the sudden and unprecedented effects of the coronavirus outbreak on our business,” he said. After reviewing the company’s quarterly financial report, 7K Wyndham timeshare employees have been laid off due to COVID-19. To give you a perspective, they employ 9K across the globe according to the San Antonio Express News article.

Justifying The Cuts of Wyndham Timeshare Employees.

According to Vaughn, San Antonio is struggling more than other popular cities in Texas because of conservative marketing budgets and a lack of “tourist attractions to entice visitors.” He went on to say, “When you have a crisis hit like this, it exacerbates the underlying problem.” But what exactly is the major problem here? Is it not that paying consumers don’t have access to the product they paid tens of thousands of dollars for?

“San Antonio is particularly affected with hotel occupancy rates overall currently in the low 30 percent range, half the level of a year ago,” said Vaughn. Wyndham officials also seem to be focused on altering sales to replace losses.  “We expect to continue to see U.S. consumers shift from international to domestic travel and also to destinations that require driving versus flying. We believe these shifts may be favorable to the timeshare industry.” 

The officials at Visit San Antonio, a public-private partnership that manages tourism marketing for San Antonio, have yet to provide a public statement. Although timeshare employees and owners may be left on the backburner for a few months, at least the timeshare industry is optimistic about their ability to rebound. Let’s hope some of these cost-cutting measures are used to reward the patience of vacation owners.

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