How to Legally Cancel Your Timeshare Contract
So, you bought a timeshare that wasn’t what you expected and you want to know how to get out of it.
That lengthy document that you signed but didn’t read at the end of your marathon-like, high-pressure timeshare sales presentation was a legally binding contract that very likely has no expiration date. It was meant to last forever, even after you are gone. It is also very likely that there is no cap on the fees you agreed to pay and that those fees can and will increase at the whim of the resort.
You were told that if you bought that timeshare you could go anywhere in the world whenever you wanted, right? How is that working out? Are you able to book anything anywhere at a time that’s convenient for you? Unless you got lucky with a great timeshare company, the answer is probably “Not even close!”
You were probably not told that the resort rents out its accommodations to the general public and that the general public wants to go there the most at the same time you want to go. You were probably also not told that the general public pays more than your negotiated rate for the timeshare and gets first priority on the best places at the most popular times. You definitely were not told that the timeshare company is not responsible if you can’t use your timeshare when you want to and they won’t do anything about it.
Given all this information that you now have, you might wonder what happens if you just quit paying your fees before your contract is legally rescinded. Unfortunately, nothing good. Read more about what happens when you stop paying your fees here.
If you are fed up with your timeshare, and you can’t just stop paying for it, what are your options? Is it really possible to cancel a timeshare contract legally? Depending upon your circumstances, there may options that will work for you.
You may try the do it yourself option. Contact your resort and see if they have an exit program. Try to negotiate a complete release from your contract. Odds are good that you will be told that the only way to cure your timeshare troubles is to buy more timeshare or points. Beware of any so-called “exit program” where the resort employee tries to sell more points to you and to take more of your hard-earned money to solve a problem that the resort caused in the first place. Be sure that any release that is signed is a complete release of any and all claims that the resort may possibly have against you.
If that doesn’t work, or you don’t feel comfortable taking on the billion-dollar resort legal team yourself, you may seek legal counsel. Look for an attorney who has two qualifications: experience with timeshare law and resorts and litigation experience. Litigation means that your attorney will actually file a lawsuit for you if necessary and represent you during arbitration or in court. Ask your prospective attorney to send you copies of the petitions or complaints that he/she has filed against timeshare resorts on behalf of other owners. If the firm has never sued a resort, it’s probably time to seek a different firm.
Once you have found an experienced timeshare and litigation attorney, here’s what you can expect:
Most resorts will absolutely refuse to share a contract with an attorney who represents an owner unless ordered to do so by a court or arbitrator. Once you hire an attorney, send your timeshare contract to them immediately so they can advise you on the next steps.
Attorneys can hit resorts where it hurts: in the wallet. It costs substantial amounts of money for resorts to defend themselves when they are sued, or when arbitration is initiated. Instead of incurring these expenses, the resorts may choose to offer an owner a release from their contract, or even give a refund, before a suit is filed or arbitration is initiated. It could very well be less expensive for the resort to just release you as opposed to incurring the legal fees involved with a lawsuit or arbitration.
You may wonder why you should hire a timeshare attorney to negotiate with a resort if they refused to negotiate with you. Many resorts are more willing to negotiate with attorneys because they know that attorneys have experience negotiating with billion-dollar companies, especially if the attorney and his/her firm is known for timeshare litigation. Resorts also know that attorneys are well-practiced at filing and handling lawsuits and initiating arbitration. There is much more risk to the resort in not negotiating with an attorney.
Should the resort not wish to negotiate with your attorney, the next step is either filing a lawsuit or initiating arbitration. A judge of a civil court or a professional arbitrator has the power to cancel, or rescind, your timeshare contract under certain circumstances. The legal term for canceling a contract is called rescission.
In your timeshare contract, you may have agreed to arbitration instead of filing a lawsuit in civil court. You may also have agreed that the arbitration will occur somewhere across the country. An experienced timeshare attorney can advise you regarding whether the arbitration provision is binding, whether you and your lawyer must really travel across the country to attend the arbitration, and whether there are other options available to you. Often the resort has to pay the filing fee for the arbitration which can be thousands of dollars.
If you were lied to during the timeshare sales presentation, then you were the victim of fraud or negligent misrepresentation. The unlawful merchandising practices act of your state was probably violated. If you were a victim of these practices, then a judge or arbitrator has the power to cancel or rescind your contract, but a lawsuit will need to be filed or arbitration must be initiated before rescission or cancellation can occur. Even then, then are no guarantees. Each situation must be evaluated on a case by case basis. The more lies that were told during the sales presentation, the better the case will be.
It is possible that negotiation and/or arbitration aren’t even necessary, depending on the terms of your contract.
Some states grant an owner a much longer rescission or cancellation period after the contract was signed if the resorts do not precisely follow the law in that state. Sometimes the right to cancel or rescind can last for years. This varies from state to state if this option is available to you at all. You may have been told about a very short rescission or cancellation period after the signing of the contract that only lasted for five or seven or ten days. This is not always the case. The cancellation or rescission period could last for years. Situations vary in different states, and an experienced timeshare attorney can advise you regarding whether or not you qualify for this type of cancellation which does not require the filing of a lawsuit or the initiation of arbitration.
One last thought…always remember that the choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based upon advertising alone.