QUEENSLAND: “A complete ratbag.” ”Megalomaniac.” ”Bully.” Oh! you say, Donald Trump is in the news again? Nah. Not this time. Those are some of the names timeshare owners at the Coolum Golf and Spa resort (formerly the Hyatt Regency Coolum) have been throwing at mining billionaire Clive Palmer (aka “the billionaire blowhard”), who bought the resort last September and promptly took steps to freeze them out.
It’s a sleazy story. Made me want to wash my eyes after reading it in The Sydney Morning Herald. In a nutshell, without informing the timeshare owners Palmer withdrew the timeshare scheme, an Australian Securities and Investments Commission deed that exempted the scheme from the Corporations Act. Says The Morning Herald (click on the link above and scroll about 2/3 of the way down):
His actions meant the scheme was non-compliant with the law, and Palmer used this as justification to strip owners of many of their entitlements: discount green fees, free tennis court hire and, most importantly, the ability to book multiple units for holidays. …
For many owners, Palmer’s coup de grace was a takeover offer to the timeshare owners of $55,013 per quarter share of a standard villa, substantially less than the $90,000 that many timeshare owners had paid and less even than what Palmer had paid for a handful of villas only months before.
He then tried to say the timeshare owners brought the problems upon themselves “by the failure of the directors to comply with the managed investment scheme legislation”. Say WHAT?
The Sydney Morning Herald has more about this at Regulator rebukes Palmer in time-share row.
Nasty bit of work, that. But that’s not all. According to a story in The Courier-Mail, back in February Palmer attempted to sack Hyatt, which had managed the property for 24 years, by terminating its management agreement. Hyatt went to court, citing breach of contract, and in March won an emergency application for an interim injunction, stopping the termination from going ahead.
But that’s not all, either. On March 2, lawyers for Palmer said the business refused to spend any more money on the resort while Hyatt continued to manage the property. Palmer had already voluntarily placed the resort in the hands of administrators. At the hearing, the court was told an operating account funded by Palmer’s companies and used by the Hyatt Group to run the resort was likely to run out of money within a week.
On March 29 a confidential resolution was reached between the two companies, and Hyatt bowed out. Somehow that doesn’t make me feel any more confident about the future of the resort.
This is definitely a “stay tuned” kind of story. Who will prevail in this ongoing soap opera of billionaire megalomaniac vs many livid timeshare owners? Has Donald Trump been out-trumped in ratbag blowhard ruthlessness by an Australian?
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LOS CABOS: So who’s most at fault here, Raintree Resorts or Starwood or the Great Recession?
Here’s the deal. Beginning as early as 2002 and continuing into 2007, nearly 300 individuals / families from across the United States and Canada paid over $25 million in pre-construction costs to Raintree Resorts for the privilege of owning a fractional interest in villas at the Grand Regina in Los Cabos. Problem: The villas were never built.
The buyers purchased their deeded fractional ownership interests from CR Resorts, a subsidiary of Raintree Resorts. And then they waited as various construction delays were announced. And waited. And waited.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, in late 2006, after a series of long restructuring negotiations initiated in 2004, owners were notified that CR Resorts and Raintree were selling the Villas land and development rights to Starwood. As an element of the restructuring, Starwood agreed to develop the 64 Grand Regina Villas units as part of its Starwood Vacation Ownership Club (SVO) program. The conveyance of the Villas land included the obligation for Starwood to provide usage rights to Villas owners at such time as the Villas would be built by Starwood and further provided that the Villas owners could join, at their option, the SVO program.
None of that worked out, either. Instead, as the financial meltdown of the economy unfolded, Starwood announced its intention not to develop the Villas at all. On February 9, 2009, Villas owners received individual “Refund Proposals” offering two options: (A) a cash refund of 35% of the price paid, distributed in installments over four years commencing on October 1, 2009, with the balance in Raintree Vacation Club (RVC) “points,” or (B) the ability to trade Villas ownership interest for an RVC membership at a 40% discount to the significantly higher current price list.
That was a no go, so Starwood sweetened the pot a little bit. But that was a no go with most of the buyers, too.
The situation deteriorated further when other information came to light indicating that marketing and sales of Villa interests took place for many years during which Raintree and Starwood knew the project was financially distressed. None of this information was ever disclosed to potential buyers.
And to make it worse, proceeds of pre-construction real estate sales did not go into an escrow account to fund future construction. On a March 26, 2009 phone call, Raintree’s CEO Doug Bech admitted to a group of Villa owners that, in addition to paying commissions to Villa sales staff, a large portion of the proceeds from Villa sales went to pay interest on their debt and to pay down $20mm in principal on Notes held by White Plains, NY-based Starwood and Los Angeles, CA-based Trust Company of the West (TCW).
After their initial efforts to resolve matters with Raintree and Starwood failed, a group of over 150 owners retained the legal representation of Chicago attorney David A. Novoselsky of the Novoselsky Law Offices. Novoselsky’s attempts to elicit reasonable offers from Raintree and Starwood also failed. He then filed a mass tort claim on behalf of his clients on August 25, 2009 in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. In the case CHARLES ADAMS, et al., v. RAINTREE VACATION EXCHANGE, LLC, et al, the owners group sought full and immediate reimbursement of their full purchase price plus interest, legal fees, and $75 million in punitive damages.
And how did that go for them? In September 2011 the Circuit Court granted Raintree and Starwood’s motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(3) for improper venue because the Plaintiffs’ contracts for the condominium interests contain a forum selection clause that requires all disputes arising from the sale of the interests to be litigated in Mexico. Read the court’s decision here, it’s pretty interesting stuff.
Keep in mind that the court’s decision had nothing to do with the merits of the case filed by the plaintiffs; it was a narrow ruling dealing only with the issue of venue.
Does that mean it’s all over except for the shouting? Probably.
But the whole thing does leave kind of a bad taste in the mouth, doesn’t it?
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NATIONWIDE: Mexico has long had its own kind of “unemployment insurance”, which essentially boils down to when you fire an employee without just cause you have to provide him/her three months salary plus 20 days pay per year of service.
Firing employees without incurring financial compensation is possible only when an employee grossly violates the work relationship. And you have to provide written notification within 30 days of a violation stating reasons and effective date of termination in order to legally fire an employee.
Additionally, dismissed employees with two or more years of service have the right to sue for reinstatement. If the employee wins the suit he will regain his job, receive full back pay, and may even receive punitive damages.
Are you still following me? OK, then. Way back in olden times when I worked in Mexico that law didn’t seem to apply to timeshare sales reps— at least not to gringos. Or if it did no one knew about it (or cared). You could get fired in an instant for any or no reason at all, and frankly (except for ego issues) it wasn’t that big a deal. You shrugged, fought for your final paycheck and headed over to greener pastures. Next!
Apparently things have changed. According to a reliable source there have been lawsuits filed against Mexican developers by timeshare reps over “illegal” firings (and for other reasons?). In response, a group of about 30 timeshare companies, called the “Mexican Timeshare Coalition”, now keeps track of people who sue Mexican timeshare companies and makes it difficult or impossible for that person to work in the industry in Mexico. Can you spell b.l.a.c.k.b.a.l.l.e.d.?
In addition, I hear that when a Mexican timeshare company wants to get rid of you nowadays, instead of firing you they make your life on the line so miserable that you’ll quit instead. Much easier, and cheaper, all around for the company.
That last part also applies to many companies in the USA, of course. It’s pretty easy for a PD to freeze you out if he/she wants to. Love line; playing with the wheel; interminable room fill… Been there done that, anyone?
I guess the lesson here is that if you’re thinking about working in Mexico, don’t be thinking about suing the developer?
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WALES: Remember the new development proposed for a £50m resort in tiny Carmarthenshire village near Pantglas Hall in West Wales? The one planned by Maxhard Ltd, the Chinese company that says its development would bring 20,000 Chinese tourists a year to the resort?
The plan, which includes developing a large tract of land surrounding the 25 current timeshare cottages on the 22-acre estate, comprises a five-story 92-bedroom luxury hotel that would incorporate an existing grade II tower – the only structure left standing from the original 1830s hall.
It would also include 80 new, very modern timeshare houses within the grounds.
Well, that plan is now on hold following a scathing report from the Design Commission for Wales that called it “bland and disparate” with “rootless architectural language.” And that was the kinder part of the report.
The local planning authority was expected to discuss the plans in March, but now both the authority and Maxhard Ltd have said there is no fixed date for a decision to be made.
Will Maxhard Ltd go forward? Will they design a better project, one more in line with the history, beauty and heritage of the area? Will a deal be reached? We wait with bated breath.
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