By Larry Lobbyist, a Westgate Resorts Timeshare Buyer
And an archetype – a pattern that connects the people of the world across time and culture. The idea of the archetype was conceived by Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875 – 1961). In writing, archetypes are characters or symbols that are recognizable irrespective of their place or time of origin.
I purchased a Westgate Resort timeshare. As a result of my experience, I questioned why lawmakers and regulators do not seem to protect timeshare consumers. My research led me to industry lobbying efforts that take place well beyond the eyes of the timeshare consumer. I’ve joined efforts to raise awareness and to search for a regulator or lawmaker who will listen and act.
Timeshare borrowers who experience predatory lending can’t even file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) because the actual lender is not disclosed. Timeshare consumers can only “Tell Your Story” and should do so. Westgate Resorts is the only timeshare resort that can be selected from the CFPB’s drop-down menu, but Westgate complaints are only forwarded to the Federal Trade Commission, not investigated.
CFPB Director, Rohit Chopra, explained in his lecture at the Penn Program on March 28, 2022, Reining in Repeat Offenders, why regulation falls short, especially with big companies, “Too big to jail, too big to fail.” The CFPB is seeking to expand investigations to include products that need consumer protection that are outside of the current universe of banking products.
In 2020, the FTC listed Timeshare Sales at #9 on their Top Ten Scam list ($18 million) and Timeshare Resales ($13 million) at #10.
According to the National Association of Attorneys General,
Unfortunately, the current landscape of the timeshare industry has exposed significant inadequacies in protection for those seeking to purchase, lease, or exit their timeshare contracts.
The timeshare industry lobby is the American Resort Development Association (ARDA). Most timeshare developers automatically charge their members a “voluntary” opt-out ARDA-ROC donation of $5 to $10, the amount billed to maintenance fee invoices. The member must contact the resort to have the charge removed. Opting out of the donation is not always so easy. Some resorts, like Marriott, ask for an opt-in donation, instead of automatically billing the donation. Shell Vacation Club (Marriott) is an opt-in $10 true donation. At least opt-in donors may take the time to learn about the organization. In informal questioning over several years, not one of over 2,000 members have been able to answer the question, “What is ARDA?”
Excerpt from Shell Vacation Resorts ARDA-ROC opt-in request:
We’d like to invite you to support the American Resort Development Association’s Resort Owners’ Coalition (ARDA-ROC), an advocacy organization that represents timeshare owners. Since its inception in 1989, ARDA-ROC has been your timeshare ownership voice through lobbying, consumer advocacy and legislative representation. Over 1.6 million timeshare owners annually contribute to this coalition.
ARDA-ROC is a non-profit, advocacy organization dedicated to preserving, protecting, and enhancing vacation ownership. Working on every regulatory and legislative level, ARDA-ROC engages in key issues affecting timeshare owners, such as consumer protections against scams, accountability for fraudulent timeshare exit companies, taxes on owners, non-judicial foreclosure, and timeshare owner privacy laws.
Shell Vacations Club
Listed below are Attorney General settlements with timeshare developers, lawsuits and a BBB Consumer Alert warning about Wyndham.
ARDA-ROC is the “owner’s advocacy” Political Action Committee (PAC) arm of ARDA. ROC stands for “Resort Owners Coalition.” Collectively, ARDA-ROC raises approximately $5 million a year purported to lobby to protect timeshare members. Listed below are five examples of positions ARDA has taken against the timeshare consumer.
As reported by the Broward Bulldog (renamed Florida Bulldog)
In 2008, the Federal Election Committee (FEC) disclosed that timeshare owners here and elsewhere had been misled into donating to ARDA-ROC PAC while paying their regular property fees. (Emphasis added):
The American Resort Development Association — Resort Owners Coalition PAC will also pay a $300,000 civil penalty. It is the largest fine imposed by the FEC since 2007.
The charges, most $3 to $5, were billed to individual timeshare owners along with tax and maintenance charges. The small donations, not itemized by the PAC, totaled $8.4 million between 2003 and 2007, records show. Political contributions are voluntary, and federal law requires solicitations to make that clear.
Federal records show that since 2006, ARDA has spent more than $1.1 million on Washington lobbyists to oppose such things as mortgage reform legislation, including the expansion of truth-in-lending requirements to timeshare buyers.
Broward Bulldog is a not-for-profit online only newspaper created to provide local reporting in the public interest. 954-603-1351
The ARDA-ROC Board of Directors
Owner Representative: Sverre Thomassen, Previous President for Desert Springs Villas II Timeshare Association
|Travis Bary, RRP, Capital Vacations||Janice Feirstein RRP, Daily Management, Inc.|
|Jon Fredericks, RRP, Welk Resorts||Jason Gamel, ARDA|
|Ada Grzywna, Bluegreen Vacations||Don Harrill, RRP, Holiday Inn Club Vacations|
|Neil Hutchinson, RRP, Hilton Grand Vacations||Robert Miller, RRP, Global Alliance for Timeshare Excellence|
|Richard Muller, RRP, VRI Americas||Thomas Nelson, Holiday Inn Club Vacations|
|Geoff Richards, Wyndham Destinations||Lisa Siegert-Free, RRP, Christie Lodge|
|Robert Spottswood, Spottswood Companies, Inc.||Sverre Thomassen, Owner Representative|
|Kimberly Tramontana, RRP, Breckenridge Grand Vacations||Chris Van Ruiten, RRP, Comerica Securities, Inc.|
|Mark Wang, Hilton Grand Vacations||Robert Webb Esq., RRP, Baker & Hostetler|
|Scott Weisz, Marriott Vacations Worldwide||Stephen Weisz, RRP, Marriott Vacations Worldwide|
Pro-industry groups, like the former Florida Timeshare Owners Group, questioned the ARDA-ROC donation after ARDA was able to get a law passed in Florida in 2015 making it more difficult to be released from a timeshare contract due to “non-material errors.”
“Any timeshare owner who donated $5 to ARDA and ARDA-ROC has financially supported the developers’ interests over the interests of their own, fellow timeshare owners, and all future purchasers,” Debar said in an online posting on TUG (Timeshare Users Group). “Simply put, ARDA and ARDA-ROC do not represent the interests of the timeshare owner public, and it’s about time that this be totally recognized.”
Timeshare Users Group (TUG):
 Why NOT to make a voluntary ARDA financial contribution this year, with your maintenance fee payment
Just got my maintenance fee statement (club dues) from Diamond. There was no mention of ARDA fees, BUT when I compared the DUES part with the lower total fees section, there was a $7 difference. I looked again and there was no mention of the extra $7 being for ARDA. So I changed the amount at the bottom to reflect what was actually stated of the $904 . Just be aware.
Post two: Thanks to TUG I haven’t paid that ARDA fee even though they claim it’s for the benefit of the owners. Baloney!
ARDA-ROC’s mission: Working on every regulatory and legislative level, ARDA-ROC engages in key issues affecting timeshare owners, such as consumer protections against scams, accountability for fraudulent timeshare exit companies, taxes on owners, non-judicial foreclosure, and timeshare owner privacy laws.
ARDA-ROC is currently working on legislative issues in 14 states. There are four core state issues (including): Non-Judicial Foreclosure
Supports non-judicial foreclosure laws which provide strong consumer protection provisions.
ARDA-ROC Chairman Kenneth McKelvey stated in letterhead minutes of the April 10, 2019 ARDA-ROC meeting at ARDA’s World annual conference: (The link has been taken down)
“The best thing we can do with exit (is) judicial foreclosure, ruin the credit and enforce the contract,” McKelvey said.
Given sizeable exit companies receive 3,000 to 4,000 callers week from those trying to extricate themself from their timeshare, the following out-of-touch comment made by an ARDA lobbyist set off flares:
“Their value comes from using it,” the timeshare industry’s top lobbyist told ConsumerAffairs in January, admitting that points have no resale value, while claiming that consumers don’t mind this because the value comes from the experience.”
A group of angry Westgate owners, not allowed a responsible exit, dispute the word responsible in ARDA’s Responsible Exit Website. They recently launched a Facebook Group called Westgate Timeshare Hostages, already with over 450 members. Several reported that they were falsely promised the ability to rent to offset maintenance fees and loan payments, only to learn this is not feasible. It is also against the law in Florida, as it is selling timeshares as an investment.
Westgate Timeshare Hostages Facebook Group
This group recently launched a poll to determine:
- I was not aware of the automatic donation (9 votes)
- I opt-out of the donation (7 votes)
- I have no clue who ARDA or ARDA-ROC is (5 votes)
- Have you researched the ARDA-ROC PAC? (1 vote)
- Yes, I am familiar with ARDA (no votes)
- I pay the automatic donation (no votes)
With the following positions taken, that are clearly anti-consumer, how can ARDA-ROC be considered a pro-consumer organization?
ARDA’s Anti-timeshare consumer positions
- In July of 2022 HB 575 will be signed into law allowing all documents to be provided electronically:
The purchaser manner of delivery form must disclose the system requirements necessary to view the approved public offering statement electronically and advise the purchaser to not select an alternative method of receiving the approved public offering statement unless he or she is able to review the approved public offering statement before the expiration of the 10-day cancellation period under s. 721.10.106
Reasons for our opposition to providing contract documents and the Public Offering Statement electronically: Cheap tablets often don’t work, and Westgate buyers have reported that their CD ROM was hidden in a secret compartment. After the bill is signed into law, the consumer must order the hard copies (during the rescission period) while on vacation, and still have time to review the documents if the CD ROM or tablet doesn’t work.
- A law was enacted in Florida in 2015 made it more difficult to be released from a timeshare contract based on “non-material” errors.
- In 2019, ARDA lobbyists in Arizona argued against offering the timeshare buyer a 24 hour “cooling-off period” BEFORE signing a perpetual timeshare contract (financed at 12% to 19%), with little to no resale value.
The Arizona bill passed the House of Representatives unanimously.
Unfortunately, these additional consumer protection requirements were stripped in the Senate and did not make it into the final legislation sent to the Governor.
At the AZ Senate hearing, ARDA lobbyist Don Isaacson argued, “But the bottom line is that the state should not step in to protect people who didn’t bother to understand the nature of the deal. You are buying real estate, you are buying it as an adult.”
(Timeshare non-deeded points are a right-to-use product bearing no resemblance to real estate. similar to joining a country club or gym.)
Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita echoed Mr. Isaacson with, “These people are adults. There was a meeting of the minds and they signed a contract. They should take responsibility!” The totality of Senator Michelle Ugenti’s sworn deposition admissions were published in the Capitol Times article that included references to explicit sex texts:
Ugenti-Rita also laid on a bar for body shots, having the lobbyist and another woman at the bar drink alcohol out of her belly button, lick salt from her stomach and suck a lime from her mouth, the woman said. Ugenti-Rita confirmed the body shots in her own sworn deposition, but said the woman asked to do them.
- An ARDA board member applauded North Carolina for not requiring timeshare sales agents to hold a real estate license,
In partnership with the North Carolina Real Estate Commission, Diamond Resorts advocated for the new real estate licensing law for timeshare sales. The new law modifies the real estate licensing requirements for timeshare salespeople. Formerly, all timeshare sales professionals were required to obtain a North Carolina real estate brokerage license. Under the new law, timeshare sales executives who are working for a developer, or an affiliate of the developer, and selling developer-owned inventory no longer need to be licensed.
- Federal records show that since 2006, ARDA has spent more than $1.1 million on Washington lobbyists to oppose such things as mortgage reform legislation, including the expansion of truth-in-lending requirements to timeshare buyers.
ARDA is the industry’s Washington-based trade association and a major lobbying force on Capitol Hill and in Tallahassee.
How does passing a law making it more difficult to be released from a timeshare contract, opposing greater truth and lending disclosures for timeshare buyers, not requiring agents to obtain a real estate license, and not allowing a timeshare buyer 24 hours to review documents, protect and advocate for timeshare members?
Attorney Patrick Kennedy: “Explain to me how lessening requirements for developers is a protection for consumers,” he said. “Listen, I’m a free-market, pro-business conservative. But not on the backs of consumers.”
As CFPB Director Rohit Chopra explained in his lecture at the Penn Program that regulatory settlements are merely financial speed-bumps in pay-to-play industries.
ARDA-ROC does not mediate disputes, but they have a Code of Ethics. The following are only a few Attorney General settlements and investigations, lawsuits, and consumer alerts concerning unfair and deceptive timeshare marketing, sales and lending:
Don’t Fall for Deception, Pressure and Traps Disguised as Vacations: A Better Business Bureau Study of the Missouri Timeshare / Vacation Club Industry
The Manhattan Club was ordered to pay $6.5 million but took in over $100 million in maintenance fees paid to a corporation with no employees (rental income not included):
Welk Resorts to Pay up to $5.5 Million to Settle Consumer Protection Lawsuit
Westgate Resorts CFPB Investigation
Colorado Attorney General Timeshare vs. Highlands Resorts Timeshare
The case is Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman et al. v. Highlands Resorts at Christie Lodge, LLC, et al. Case No. 2016CV34399.
Florida Attorney General vs. Bluegreen
Arizona Attorney General vs Diamond Resorts $800,000 settlement
Festiva Attorney General Investigations
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III
A $3 million settlement with Festiva, a network of vacation and timeshare companies, for alleged violations of the federal Telemarking Act, federal Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act
According to complaints reviewed by the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, consumers are misled into believing that they have won or been selected for a valuable prize, but to claim the prize, they must comply with many undisclosed requirements including a lengthy, high-pressure sales presentation.
(Maine) Attorney General Janet Mills announced that as a result of a settlement, customers who signed 40-year contracts with Festiva will be able to break them if they agree to the terms of the settlement and receive a portion of a $150,000 payment by Festiva.
Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell today announced that his office has filed suit against Festiva Hospitality Group and its associated businesses and principals for unfair and deceptive practices in connection with Festiva’s points-based “vacation club.”
Missouri Attorney General Welk Resorts
Jefferson City, Mo. – Attorney General Chris Koster today announced that Welk Resort Sales, Inc., a California corporation that sells timeshares in Branson, has entered into an agreement to pay $18,000 in restitution to Missouri consumers who purchased timeshares from Welk. This money will be refunded to 15 Missouri consumer victims. In addition, any agreement between these consumers and Welk has been terminated.
A Consumer Alert posted on Wyndham Vacation Ownership BBB Report
BBB files indicate that this business has a pattern of complaints concerning misrepresentation in selling practices. Consumer complaints report that the verbal representations are inconsistent with the written agreement. According to complaints, claims include representations that the purchase is an “investment” and the same as “real estate” in that it will increase in value. Owners report mandatory meetings that they are led to believe are to introduce new features and benefits but result in a sales presentation to purchase or upgrade their points. In some instances owners are encouraged to complete a survey or questionnaire which results in another sales presentation to purchase additional points.
Trish Williams $20 million Wyndham whistleblower award
Something is very wrong with the timeshare industry when Wall Street recommends timeshare contracts because they are evil. Yahoo! Finance reporter Abigail Fisher likens timeshare stocks to the money made on Phillip Morris, despite cancer caused by smoking.
In this article we are going to look at another set of evil companies that use high pressure sales tactics to trick consumers into signing complex long-term contracts that they don’t understand: timeshare marketing companies.
Consider joining our efforts to improve the timeshare experience for families and for the betterment of the industry.
AIT would like to thank Larry Lobbyist for your contribution and welcome to AIT, thanks also go to Irene who as usual did a fine job on editing and coordinating our US contributions. There is a wall around the timeshare industry, a wall of denial, they are on the defensive and their tool ARDA is going all out to strengthen that wall, but consumers are circling the “Walls of Jericho”. Both in the US and Europe, consumers’ voices are starting to be heard and the industry knows it. Publications such as AIT are bringing people the truth about the whole industry, not just sales but all the frauds on the periphery, caused by the industry itself. It is your voices joining together that is making this change, don’t give up, that is what the industry wants you to do.
Your comments on this or any other article are most welcome, please place your comment on the appropriate article or if you have further questions and require straight and truthful answers, please use the details on our contact page.
AIT hopes you all have a great weekend, we leave you with evidence of Baby Dog being caught, could he be keeping some bad company?