The results of a Westgate Resorts Public Records Request
By Larry Lobbyist, a Westgate Owner
A group of Westgate Resort timeshare owners, angry that they were sold on the benefits of renting, filed a Public Records Request with the Office of the Florida Attorney General (OAG). The OAG produced 551 Westgate complaints filed over the last three years. Nearly half of the complaints mentioned renting to cover the cost of the timeshare, an unfeasible strategy. Reading the contract would not have helped because the Westgate contract states you can rent. The total dollar amount of Westgate complaints reported totalled over $4 million.
The Florida OAG has taken no action against Westgate, but the full force of the Florida Attorney General’s prosecutorial powers were unleashed against an exit company that secured $87,000 in restitution. Florida Attorney General, Ashley Moody, applauded her office for investigating Premier Rental Solutions and Paramount Property Professionals saying, “…… I am proud of my Statewide Prosecutors for securing restitution for Florida victims of this fraud.”
(Owner) Walsh will pay $87,000 in restitution to Florida victims of the scam—an average of approximately $1,750 per victim. http://www.myfloridalegal.com/newsrel.nsf/newsreleases/B8D9BFD05F44CFD08525863A006DB492
Among the 551 Westgate owners reporting $4,162,062 in losses (many left the amount blank):
29 mentioned being veterans, 3 mentioned being active duty military
251 mention “rent”
88 mention “profit”
111 mention “investment”
The keywords were tallied via a word search by a volunteer who read through each complaint. The complaints encompassed approximately 4,000 pages. A Spanish-speaking volunteer will be reading through the Spanish complaints. Florida is only one state. There could be thousands of complaints nationwide, plus many don’t think to file a complaint with an Attorney General.
Five vitiating factors were mentioned in practically every complaint:
- Undue influence
- Illegality (unable to be proven without a recording) Florida is a “two-party” state. Recording a meeting is not allowed without the consent of both parties.
An Over-Reliance on the Non-reliance (Oral Representation) clause
The “oral representation” clause, warning consumers not to rely on statements made by a timeshare sales agent, should be disclosed prior to the sales presentation, not buried in fine print. A recent change in Florida law offers developers further assurance that the consumer will be unaware of this important disclosure as all documents can now be provided electronically. Some resorts provide only a cheap tablet that often doesn’t work. It would likely be a feat to obtain a hard copy during the rescission period while on vacation. One Westgate owner provided pictures showing how her Westgate Public Offering Statement was hidden in a secret compartment.
How can being denied a hard copy of documents, unless ordered, be considered a pro-consumer measure? ARDA applauds the legislative change: Around the Industry is Now Digital https://www.arda.org/
The Recorded Closing was used as an Entrapment
An unintended consequence of an Arizona Attorney General’s investigation made matters worse for consumers. Their office initially received about 400 complaints filed by Diamond Resorts members. As the investigation progressed, that number grew to over 1,000 complaints. After the company was issued an Assurance of Discontinuance, in 2017, Diamond began recording the closing “QA” session. Other developers soon followed. There have been multiple complaints and some recordings of agents advising buyers what to say or not say on the recording. One example: “I help people refinance (sell, rent) outside of here, so don’t mention anything to the closing agent.” The recording is then used as “proof” that there was no misrepresentation. The buyer is not allowed to listen to the recording without a subpoena. A subpoena would require filing an arbitration case, arguably biased towards industry.
Who’s Being Protected?
Timeshare members are concerned that some Attorneys General are protecting developers from consumers. Reviewers with the Florida Attorney General’s Timeshare Division, Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), are quick to dismiss complaints by referring to what is written in the contract, and to the contract rescission period responding, “Verbal representations are difficult to prove.” The problem, as stated above, is that in the case of renting out Westgate units to cover costs, reading the contract does not help. The rescission period does not help because no one would attempt to rent a newly purchased timeshare while on vacation. It is only after frustrating rental attempts that the buyer learns renting for income is unfeasible. The contract states the buyer did not buy for investment purposes, but according to one attorney we spoke with, renting just to cover maintenance fees should not be considered investment purposes.
The Westgate owners also sent a Public Records Request to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That agency forwarded 541 Westgate complaints. The CFPB issued Westgate a Civil Investigative Demand (CID) in 2015.
It is disturbing that the Florida OAG will not investigate Westgate’s practices having received so many complaints. Other states have launched investigations with fewer numbers. Without legislative changes, the Florida OAG won’t have to do anything! We want to know why no one – not the Attorney General, ARDA, or Westgate, cares about us and the harm we have suffered. More importantly, why are lawmakers and regulators not concerned with veterans and active duty service members losing their security clearances because of timeshare sales and lending? In frustration, we launched Westgate Timeshare Hostages Facebook Group in late December of 2021. Nearly 1,000 members have joined.
The Queen of Versaille Documentary about the Owners of Westgate
A Combat Veteran 24 years served with a security clearance
My wife and I bought a Westgate Resorts Vacation Villas timeshare unit in Orlando on November 13, 2021, for $20,000. We financed $19,305. Since our purchase, my incurable, combat-related medical condition has worsened. My lung capacity is at 73%. I have idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a fatal lung disease where the additional presence of pulmonary hypertension (PH) reduces survival. My only option is a lung transplant, but in order to be moved up on the wait-list, I have to be on a ventilator. This means I must be bedridden before I would be eligible. It has become increasingly difficult to travel. I also have degenerative disc disease. Our Westgate agents promised us that if we did not want to continue with the property, we could request to get out of the timeshare loan with no penalty and Westgate would retain the property without further financial charges. Our agents also said we could offset the cost of the property by renting the timeshare out and that Westgate would assist us with the rental process. The promised 90-minute presentation turned into six hours. I suffer from PTSD and TBI. https://afterinsidetimeshare.com/?p=1295
Response from the Florida Attorney General
Dear Irene Parker,
The office of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody received your communication regarding your concerns with Westgate and Bluegreen and we thank you for taking the time to file a complaint with our office.
The Attorney General’s Office is concerned with all potentially unfair and deceptive trade practices. In general, our office uses complaints such as yours to identify patterns of questionable business practices which may indicate the need for formal investigation or action by our office to protect the broad public interest.
This office appreciates consumers who brings their concerns to our attention, often, it is only through correspondence from concerned citizens that this office becomes aware of consumer problems.
Again, thank you for giving us the opportunity to hear from you.
Office of the Attorney General
Consumer Protection Division
PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO THIS E-MAIL. THIS ADDRESS IS FOR PROCESSING ONLY.
Bluegreen Vacations is mentioned in the response. They offer a survey at check-in with a list of “likes and dislikes” as reported by several Bluegreen owners. Of course “maintenance assistance” is checked. One owner reported her sales agent looked at her response and said, “This is a sign you don’t have enough points” and then proceeded to encourage them to buy additional points to rent. Beginning about a year ago, Bluegreen began suspending accounts “suspected” of commercial activity! The suspicion is based only on reservations in the names of someone other than the account holder.
After Inside Timeshare has heard from timeshare members and owners who purchased from a total of nine developers, based on the ability to rent to cover costs. Wyndham, a 10th developer has had a sales agent pitching to rent. This was not a Wyndham member reporting, but a lawsuit filed against one of their employees! Our analysis to follow in an upcoming article.
Articles about renting to cover costs: Three additional Active Duty Service Members and Veterans
A Navy Chief Petty Officer, 14 years served
Tahiti Village, Soleil Management – According to statements made by Soleil’s representatives, they will not take a timeshare back under any circumstances. In November of 2021 he paid an exit company $2,800 but has received nothing but email updates.
I bought a Tahiti Village timeshare in 2017 in California. The sales agent told us this was an investment because the Raiders stadium was being built right across the street. We were told we could rent the timeshare out so that it would pay for itself. After learning it would be unfeasible to rent to cover costs, I tried to sell it through Timeshares Only, a company recommended by Soleil. On October 21, 2021, I paid them $600 to list the timeshare for $5,000. No one inquired. I learned that honest brokers either will not accept a listing or suggest a selling price of only a few hundred dollars. They said it may be difficult to give it away. https://afterinsidetimeshare.com/?p=1098
Active Duty Air Force, 8 ½ years served
In September of 2021, my family of three purchased a 4 BR Westgate Resorts unit at Westgate Lakes in Orlando. We were assured of the ability to rent to cover the cost of the timeshare, and to earn income. After learning that renting to cover even just the cost of the timeshare is all but impossible, I reached out to After Inside Timeshare and was referred to Westgate’s Legacy department. In their dismissal, they asked me to provide the reason why national security is threatened. The reason is because a loan default can lead to the loss of a security clearance, which can lead to involuntary separation from service. I counted on the ability to rent to cover the cost of the timeshare. We would have never purchased a 4 BR timeshare for just the three of us. https://afterinsidetimeshare.com/?p=1291
A Documented Veteran who fought at the battle of Long Tan
This family lost $112,000. In 2018 we were invited to an “educational” dinner at Newport Beach, California, to learn how to use points. The dinner started at 6 PM. We signed a contract to buy 7,500 additional points for $29,000 around 11 PM. Our agent said we could deduct our maintenance fees because renting points can be run as a business. He mentioned this after noticing we hadn’t used our points. We rarely travel. He explained how people from all over the world could get their own Dream Vacation by renting points from us. He used this example: You live in California. People want to ski, so you book a trip, then post an ad and make money. We cancelled this contract, finally, realizing Diamond points are not an income investment. https://afterinsidetimeshare.com/?p=1301
Other rental complaints
Are my Consumer Rights being eroded? Westgate Benn Dover February 25, 2022
Nine Westgate Families (2 – 10) March 4, 2022
Club Exploria (1) March 11, 2022
Sheri Vacation Village (1) March 18, 2022
Ashley Vacation Village (2) September 2, 2022
Westgate by Abdur Rashid (11) April 22, 2022
Jackie’s Vacays Westgate (12) June 10, 2022
Branson’s Nantucket (3) May 13, 2022
Thank you, Larry and all who contribute to these articles, they are your testimonies to the unfair and in my own opinion fraudulent practices of the timeshare industry. Some may say that is too strong a word to use, but according to the definition below it fits the criteria.
That’s all for this week, have a great weekend.