Maybe "It Follows" was a metaphor for timeshares?
April 2, 2015 6:36 PM   Subscribe

So I've read a lot of horror stories about timeshares, and it just doesn't make sense that our legal system lets anything that insane exist, seemingly without any restrictions. Can someone with some legal knowledge (or personal experience) explain them to me? I'm not looking for legal advice (thankfully don't need it), I'm just curious.

Obviously this is a topic where reliable information is hard to come by; it seems like a lot of people on the internet are either running a scam or deluding themselves.

Question #1:
The "maintenance fees" are at the discretion of the timeshare company, so can't they just demand as much money as they want, up to all of your assets and income? Is it just the goodwill of these companies that prevents anyone who owns a timeshare from essentially being an indentured servant? Is there some kind of common-law contract thing where you can get out of it if they aren't "reasonable"?

Question #2:
If you die with a timeshare, what happens to your estate if the executor can't find another sucker? Does the estate just stay in probate until it's bled dry by timeshare fees?

Question #3:
Let's say you stop paying your timeshare fees and then declare bankruptcy. That would get you out of the fees you owe so far, but could it get you out of the timeshare itself? Or could they just levy more fees afterwards?

I'm not a lawyer and know probably less than the average layman about this kind of law, so please tell me if these are ill-formed questions. And if the answers to these questions depend on the wording of a contract, then I'm interested in "typical" timeshare contracts.
posted by vogon_poet to Law & Government (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I do not have legal experience, but I have owned a time share. It was a wedding gift from my parents. Here are my answers, based on my own personal experience.

#1. You are correct that maintenance fees can be raised by the company at any time. They could demand as much as they want, but there is a limit -- owners can walk away from a timeshare (the same way you walk away from any asset -- you just stop making payments), they can sell it, or they can give it back. So they have to be careful to not raise them to the point where all the owners walk, sell or give back.

#2. The estate has the same options as any other owner -- walk away, sell it, or give it back. I've known people who inherited timeshares. It's not always bad to get one that way, because the new owner is not out any capital, they are only out maintenance fees.

#3. Timeshares are not student loans. I think you can get out of one via bankruptcy, but I don't know this through my own experience.

For what it's worth, I got out of mine by giving it back to the company. I relinquished my "ownership" rights, and my unit reverted back to the company, who I assume sold it to some other chump. I didn't get anything back from it, which didn't bother me too much, since my parents originally bought it. I personally wasn't out anything. The process of giving the unit back was quick and painless. It took about 15 minutes, and didn't involve any shady sales tactics.
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:17 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to be clear, I'm never ever ever ever ever ever going to buy a timeshare. I just want to know whether they are really as absurdly bad as they seem.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:20 PM on April 2, 2015

My mom has a timeshare. I cannot speak to too many of the ugly details of it financially--beyond oh, apparently single ladies aren't supposed to be sold timeshares and she's a widow. And to be fair, the one time I used it with her it was glorious beautiful luxury.

On the other hand, once you get one, they are always trying to talk you into buying another one or upgrading the old one and offering you all this free crap if you sit through an "hour" long presentation. It ain't an hour. One time we got some deal on a nice hotel in Florida. I refused to attend the thing with her (I am not able to buy one anyway, see above!) and then after about an hour of her being at it, they sent a car for me within five minutes, drove me to a fucking industrial park in the middle of nowhere, and we spent literally 3/4 of daylight hours with them bugging us to pay more money. In the end, I am not kidding, my mom had to agree to write them a $100 (for as far as I can tell, PERMISSION TO LEAVE only) check ("you can cancel it afterwards!" which she did) and then it still took them 3/4 of an hour to drive us back to civilization. They would straight up not let us leave without moniez.

There is a South Park episode called "Asspen" that I think is only slightly more satirical than actual time share sales people behavior. They are frightening.

I am glad to hear in this thread there is a way out of dealing with the timeshare when I inherit it, because holy bejeezus I don't think I can afford it and I might rip off some heads if they try to sell to me again.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:34 PM on April 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

My brothers and I inherited a timeshare from our parents. It cost about $400 a year, but we never used it. We tried to sell it, but it was still in my parent's name and the legal costs of having that updated would have been more than we could sell it for. We decided to just let it go into foreclosure - it was in my parents' name and when you're deceased, you don't have to worry about your credit being ruined.
posted by ShooBoo at 9:14 PM on April 2, 2015

I'm not a lawyer but I've researched this for family members who wanted to know. My lay interpretation of timeshares in the U.S. is thus:

Timeshares come in two types. The first is a deeded share that works much like a condominium in which the owner lives. Each fractional owner receives a deed for a partial interest in the property and the deed restrictions dictate what the owner may do with that ownership. The second is a contract for use where the property owner (the people who own the resort) agree to let people use the property under certain conditions. The type is important when considering the future.

1) They can demand all they want up to the limits of the contract. However, unless they do like any other creditor and garnish your wages (not possible in all states) or take some other collection action (expensive), they're not getting it if you can't or won't pay. This is just like any other debt. If the timeshare is a contract for use, all they can likely do is cancel the contract and then sue for an unsecured debt. If it is deeded, they can foreclose the deed and take back ownership, then sue for the rest of the debt just like foreclosing on a house. In practice, timeshare sellers don't like to drop the hammer because aggressive enforcement will scare away potential clients (not that there aren't a bunch of horror stories already).

2) An estate is a "person" just like the person who created it and is now deceased. The estate can simply stop paying, can surrender the deed or cancel the contract if allowed, or get out of it in a third way, which is...

3) declare bankruptcy. If you complete bankruptcy and are discharged, the timeshare company can foreclose the deed or cancel the contract but cannot collect anything from you in regards to the cancelled (discharged) debt.

Deeded timeshares work just like any other property with a deed. Contract for use timeshares work like an apartment lease with a lot fewer occupant protections.

Lately, timeshare sellers are making it easier (but by no means "trivial," in most cases) to simply give back the timeshare instead of pressuring owners to keep them. It lets the seller resell the timeshare and reap another round of fees plus it gives them a marketing advantage to say "there's always an out" to prospective buyers. Older timeshares are more grouchy, it seems.
posted by fireoyster at 10:09 PM on April 2, 2015

Response by poster: So in reality, it seems that most of the time they will just let you (or your estate) surrender the deed or cancel the contract if things get really bad. And indeed it seems costs are limited by the goodwill of the companies, and practical concerns about profitability.

But in principle, let's say you accidentally bought a timeshare from Lucifer Resort Experiences, and they absolutely refuse to do anything to help you: they are the absolute worst possible adversary, they don't care about their own profit, they have bottomless legal resources and they will use them to make you suffer. They will certainly not take back the deed or anything like that.

Is there any way out that doesn't involve bankruptcy, for you or the estate? (And is bankruptcy a guarantee here -- could they somehow scheme things so that you still end up owning the timeshare afterwards? If so, what happens if they do this to an estate?)
posted by vogon_poet at 6:00 AM on April 3, 2015

Two additional points:

> The "maintenance fees" are at the discretion of the timeshare company

That is true of any condominium as well. One problem is vacant properties. If there are 100 units, and after a period of time 30 of them are vacant, the other 70 are now paying close to 50% more in the allocated costs of maintenance - most of which are fixed and do not scale.

No one can be forced to inherit anything. Anyone who is the line of succession can disclaim an inheritance and walk away from it.
posted by yclipse at 10:37 AM on April 3, 2015

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