|By Marc Parry, Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 21, 2005 - SOUTH YARMOUTH -- The annual maintenance bill for her South Yarmouth time share is always due at a tough time: right after Christmas.
But Janet Santackas, a $34,000-a-year office manager for a Cambridge publishing company, always scrapes together the $330. And this year, though she sent it in a little late, was no different.
Except for one thing: Soon after mailing her check she got a letter saying The Yarmouth Condominiums would not be opening in 2005. It was broke.
"I feel like they robbed me of my week down on the Cape and they robbed me of the $330 I worked really hard for," said Santackas, who originally paid $3,800 for the two weeks she owns at the resort.
Santackas is one of two new time-share owners who have come forward to lodge complaints against the failed resort with the Consumer Assistance Council, a Hyannis agency affiliated with the state attorney general's office that tries to mediate consumer complaints.
Those bring to four the total number of complaints against the Route 28 time share. Santackas', filed Friday, is the first to take the resort to task for collecting the maintenance fee.
The board of trustees that governs the time share has dropped out of sight.
The people who complained, all owners of weeks at the 24-unit converted motel, acted after repeated attempts to reach management failed.
Meanwhile, time-share owners at the Delray Beach Club in Dennisport have been notified that they won't get a Cape vacation this year either. The 17-unit resort closed at the end of May.
A June 1 letter from its board of managers blamed the closure on the same problem that shuttered The Yarmouth Condominiums: not enough money from maintenance fees to keep the resort running.
The time share on Captain Chase Road, also a converted motel, last year levied a special fee on its owners for repairs. So the closing came as a surprise, said one owner, Theresa Van Alstyne.
"When I bought this, what they told me is, 'This is yours forever. You can leave this to your children in your will,'" said Van Alstyne, of Fulton, N.Y. "...Apparently forever isn't as long as I thought."
No one has filed a complaint against Delray, said Consumer Assistance Council Executive Director Paul Schrader. And the board's June 1 letter said anyone who had paid their 2005 maintenance bill whose week came after May 28 would be "compensated in some way from the net proceeds of the sale of the Delray property."
The Feb. 18 letter to owners announcing that Yarmouth Condominiums would not be opening made no mention of the 2005 maintenance fees, however. It said only that "owners in good standing" would get some of "whatever funds remain" after any sale.
Maintenance bills were due Jan. 1. It's unclear how much was collected before the letter was sent Feb. 18 -- or whether the board knew when the bills went out that the time share would not be opening.
Seven people identified as board members by a former employee and listed in 2004 company documents -- George Anderson, Lorie Getz, Don L'Esperance, Jack Majenski, Bill Eichorn, Marilyn Costello and Tom Keough -- either could not be reached, did not return messages, or declined to be interviewed.
But a Yarmouth Condominiums report obtained by the Cape Cod Times indicates the amount of maintenance fees collected could be as high as $79,656.
There are 960 weeks at the resort, many in the hands of delinquent owners who didn't pay maintenance, according to 2004 resort records. If all 240 owners who were fully paid up in 2004 sent checks this year for $331.90 -- the most common maintenance rate -- that means $79,656 would have come in.
The former employee, a front desk clerk who was laid off in October after six years and who did not want his name published, said back bills for 2004 "were stacking up" when he left. They would have amounted to between $25,000 and $30,000 by the end of the year, he said.
The former clerk claimed the board must have known when the 2005 bills went out that the resort wouldn't be opening.
"The bills they sent out weren't enough to cover the minimal cost for the season," he maintained. "So all they were trying to do was get enough money to cover what was still due for 2004."
But one owner who did pay his 2005 maintenance bill rejected that claim.
Roger Lavoie of Cumberland, R.I., said he had "a certain amount of trust" in the board.
"They probably hadn't made a decision on whether or not they would open before the fees were collected," Lavoie said. "They've always treated me fairly."
Also, the resort would need to cover expenses like legal fees and property taxes in 2005 even if it didn't open, said Cliff Hagberg, president of IVS Realty in Hyannis, the oldest and largest time-share resale company in New England.
The town received a tax payment of $1,747.91 from the time share on May 2, according to the Yarmouth collector's office.
Regardless, two failing time shares doesn't bode well for local resorts, Hagberg said, especially when they have to compete with industry giants like Hilton and Marriott.
"How in the world is a converted motel in Cape Cod going to compete with that kind of product?" he said.
The Consumer Assistance Council is not an enforcement agency. When a complaint comes in, a copy goes out to the party it names. Typically they get up to two weeks to respond, Schrader said.
"Mediation is a voluntary process," Schrader said. "If nobody wants to respond, there's nothing further we can do. But info about every complaint goes into the attorney general's office...If they see a trend that affects the public, then they take action."
Sarah Nathan, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, yesterday confirmed receipt of the four complaints but declined further comment.
To see more of the Cape Cod Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.capecodonline.com/cctimes.
Copyright (c) 2005, Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
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