Published November 03. 2013 4:00AM
Marilyn Lennehan and her husband Jim were enjoying their La Cabana timeshare six years ago in Aruba when they heard a presentation from a BlueGreen Vacation Club representative. His spiel of how they could be vacationing for free all over the United States and in Europe was enticing.
"They told us we would not be stuck in one place," Marilyn recalled.
The two seniors were so impressed that they turned their timeshare over to BlueGreen and paid an additional $6,500 to become a member of the vacation club.
Unlike their traditional timeshare in Aruba where they were given a deeded week at the resort, BlueGreen provides its members with points that are used to book vacations at its resorts or with exchanges that accept the BlueGreen club points.
The following year - instead of Europe or resorts in the U.S. - the couple used their points to return to La Cabana for another week's vacation.
That was the last time the Newington couple was able to use BlueGreen resorts as Jim started having major health issues and was unable to travel.
The fact that the two seniors were unable to use their points did not eliminate their responsibility to annually pay hundreds of dollars in maintenance fees.
The maintenance fees for this year - due in November - are $1,074 according to the couple.
Jim Lennehan's health further deteriorated this year and Marilyn has been trying to convince BlueGreen to take back their membership as they are unable to use it.
"I have talked to them until I was blue in the face," Marilyn told me, but the company is not interested in taking back the membership and thereby eliminating the yearly maintenance fee. BlueGreen did not respond to requests for response.
They are not alone. Hundreds of other BlueGreen Vacation Club members are also trying to get out from their annual maintenance fee and return their memberships.
Largo Florida Attorney Michael Finn, whose law firm is largely built on getting timeshare owners out of their obligations, has represented about 250 BlueGreen club owners over the past few years and has 50 pending cases.
Finn last spring filed a suit against BlueGreen as well as two credit reporting agencies challenging negative credit reports in cases where members had stopped making maintenance payments.
Finn represented four couples. He said BlueGreen and the credit reporting agencies falsely claimed that his clients had defaulted on their timeshares.
Since the timeshares consisted of only club points - instead of deeded property - Finn maintained that there were no defaults in these cases.
The suit has since been settled under a confidentiality agreement.
"My clients are pretty happy," Finn said, adding that under the agreement he could not provide specific information about the settlement.
Finn, who has no love for the timeshare industry, said he charges $3,500 to get timeshare owners out of their contracts. He said he has leverage against timeshare companies with the threat of suing them for deceptive sales practices.
In most cases consumers lose when they purchase a timeshare, Finn said. "Within a year or two after the purchase the maintenance fees are so great" that it's cheaper for consumers to simply pay for a vacation instead of using a timeshare, he said.
More than 500 consumers have also filed complaints against BlueGreen with the Better Business Bureau. The complaints include deceptive sales pitches, unavailability of units, and difficulty in cancelling reservations.
BlueGreen denied to the BBB that its representatives engaged in deceptive sales tactics and they agreed to improve their services. BlueGreen also said that the number of complaints were small compared to the number if club memberships it has sold.
However, the BBB said in July that it reviewed complaints against BlueGreen and found the same pattern of complaints.