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Timeshare Ownership Exposed: Candace’s Struggle with Westgate Resorts

Candace, a resident of Michigan, recently shared her tumultuous experience with Westgate Resorts, highlighting the challenges and pitfalls of timeshare ownership. Her story emerges amidst recent legislative changes in Florida, specifically House Bill 869, which significantly alters the landscape of timeshare incidental benefits and electronic document provision. This article delves into the nuances of these changes and their real-world impacts, as exemplified by Candace’s distressing encounter with Westgate Resorts.

━ Candace’s Experience with Westgate Resorts

Candace embarked on her timeshare ownership journey on December 27, 2016, by purchasing a 2-bedroom unit at Westgate Town Center Resort for $18,309. The allure of an incidental benefit, specifically the promise of a location near a water park, influenced her decision. However, her ownership experiences sharply contradicted her expectations. Candace and her family encountered mold in their unit and repeatedly faced denials of access to promised amenities, leading to numerous disappointments.

Inadequate customer service and misleading sales practices further aggravated the situation. A sales agent, for example, falsely assured Candace that her family could always stay near the water park. Moreover, the resort consistently failed to provide enough towels, turning basic necessities into a recurring problem for her family.

━ The Misrepresentation of Incidental Benefits

Candace’s experience with Westgate Resorts sheds light on the inherent risks associated with incidental benefits in timeshare agreements. Incidental benefits, often touted as perks or bonuses, can range from access to premium amenities to special discounts. In Candace’s case, the promise of a desirable location near a water park was a significant factor in her decision to purchase. However, these benefits are not always guaranteed and can be subject to change, leading to a gap between consumer expectations and the actual value received.

➤ Impact of Florida House Bill 869

The passage of Florida House Bill 869 represents a significant shift in the regulation of timeshare incidental benefits. Previously, there were more stringent rules governing these benefits, including a cap on their value relative to the purchase price and specific disclosure requirements. The bill’s enactment has led to the removal of the 15% purchase price limitation on the value of all incidental benefits offered, potentially allowing developers to inflate the perceived value of these benefits without a corresponding increase in actual value.

Furthermore, the relaxation of reporting and disclosure requirements means that consumers like Candace are less informed about the source and reliability of these benefits. This lack of transparency can lead to situations where consumers are unaware of the conditions or limitations attached to these perks until after they have committed to the purchase.

➤ Developer-Friendly Provisions and Consumer Impact

The changes brought about by House Bill 869 are largely developer-friendly. By removing certain constraints, developers have more leeway in how they offer and advertise incidental benefits. This can lead to practices where the true value and availability of these benefits are obscured, making it difficult for consumers to make fully informed decisions.

For example, a developer might now offer a wide array of incidental benefits without having to clearly disclose their source or the likelihood of their availability. This can result in situations where consumers, enticed by the promise of these benefits, commit to a timeshare purchase only to find that the benefits are less valuable, unavailable, or come with undisclosed conditions.

➤ The Consequences for Consumers

The consequences for consumers like Candace can be severe. What was initially perceived as a value-add can turn into a source of frustration and financial loss. In Candace’s case, the failure to access promised amenities significantly impacted her family’s vacation experience and overall satisfaction with the timeshare. This discrepancy between expectations and reality can leave consumers feeling misled and trapped in agreements that do not deliver the promised value.

Furthermore, the challenge of holding developers accountable for these benefits increases with the relaxation of disclosure requirements. Consumers may find it more difficult to contest or seek redress for unfulfilled promises, leading to a power imbalance between timeshare developers and buyers.

━ Electronic Documentation Challenges

Candace’s frustrating experience with Westgate Resorts was exacerbated by significant electronic documentation challenges. When she purchased her timeshare, she was provided with a tablet for contract signing. However, the tablet malfunctioned, denying her access to essential documents like the purchase contract and Public Offering Statement. This technological failure had severe implications, as it hindered her ability to fully understand and potentially reconsider the terms of her agreement within the crucial rescission period.

➤ Prevalence of Electronic Documentation Issues

Candace’s case is not an isolated incident but rather indicative of a broader trend in the timeshare industry. Many consumers report encountering similar issues with electronic devices provided for contract signing. Common problems include devices that are either dysfunctional or do not contain all the necessary documents. This shift towards digital contracts, while seemingly convenient, often leads to situations where consumers are unable to review important terms and conditions at the time of signing.

➤ The Impact of Inadequate Electronic Documentation

When electronic devices fail or do not contain the required documents, consumers are left without access to critical information that is necessary for making an informed decision about their timeshare purchase. The inability to review the full contract and accompanying documents at the time of signing may infringe on consumers’ rights. Full disclosure and the ability to review terms are essential components of consumer protection in contractual agreements.

Timeshare contracts typically have a rescission period, a short window during which the buyer can cancel the contract without penalty. If electronic documentation issues prevent consumers from accessing their contracts during this period, they may lose the opportunity to rescind their agreement, even if they later discover terms that they find unacceptable or were unaware of. Without proper documentation, consumers like Candace find it challenging to seek redress or clarification for issues encountered with their timeshare. This lack of documentation can hinder their ability to file complaints or legal claims, as they do not have the necessary evidence to support their case.

➤ The Need for Improved Practices and Consumer Vigilance

The growing reliance on electronic documentation in the timeshare industry calls for improved practices to ensure reliability and accessibility. Timeshare companies must ensure that the devices they provide function correctly and contain all relevant documents. There is also a need for better consumer education regarding their rights and the importance of thoroughly reviewing all contractual documents, whether provided electronically or in hard copy.

━ Conclusion

Candace’s ordeal with Westgate Resorts is a cautionary tale for potential timeshare buyers. It highlights the importance of understanding the real value of incidental benefits and being vigilant against misrepresentations in timeshare agreements. The impact of legislative changes, like Florida’s House Bill 869, on consumer rights cannot be overstated. As timeshare agreements continue to evolve in the digital age, consumers must remain informed and cautious to avoid the pitfalls experienced by Candace and many others. For those seeking support or information, resources like the Westgate Timeshare Hostages Facebook group offer a community for shared experiences and advice.

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