Missourians sometimes are targeted by real estate developers and resort communities to buy vacation timeshares, an arrangement in which consumers buy vacation homes, usually in a resort area, for a specific length of time each year.

The property, which typically consists of condominiums, apartments, lodges, cabins or hotel rooms, sometimes is sold by salespersons using high-pressure tactics and misleading advertising. Sometimes, the timeshare property may be a campground where members must provide their own campers or recreational vehicles.

A timeshare often carries with it a potential for liability for the owner or member. Be sure to obtain and read any restrictions and covenants filed with the recorder of deeds in the county where the timeshare resort is located.

Also, read the bylaws and rules and regulations. Sometimes, timeshare owners and members are subject to "special assessments" in addition to annual maintenance fees.

If you do not understand the full extent of your liability as a member or owner, consult an attorney before buying.

Also, beware of subsequent amendments to these documents. They may affect your liability.

Buyer Protections for Consumers

Under state law, timeshares are defined as merchandise and fall within the guidelines of Missouri's Merchandising Practices Act, Chapter 407, Missouri Revised Statutes.

Use of any deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, unfair practice or concealment of fact by a person in connection with the sale of timeshares is subject to civil and criminal penalties that may be brought by the Attorney General.

Major provisions of a state law protecting buyers are:

  • A five-day right of recision. If a consumer signs a contract to buy a timeshare and then changes his mind, he has five days to cancel. The cancellation must be in writing, and cancellation is effective when the letter is postmarked. According to state law, the seller must give the buyer an 18-point, boldface printed notice of the right to cancel at the time of purchase.
  • Follow through on promotional offers. The name of the business entity and all timeshare operations involved in the promotion must be included in promotional literature. This material also must contain the deadline by which all prizes are to be awarded, the odds of winning each prize and the manufacturer's suggested retail price for each prize.
  • Delivery of promised gifts. When the seller uses free offers or other promotions when soliciting, the seller must deliver any promised gifts or an acceptable substitute gift or cash in an amount equal to the retail value of the gift offered within 10 days of when promised. The seller also must make available to the public a list of names and addresses of all winners. If the seller fails to provide the buyer with a promised gift, the buyer can sue.
  • Explanation of timeshare exchange plans. Exchange plans usually involve trading a vacation at one timeshare facility for a vacation in another location. Limitations, restrictions or priorities regarding exchange programs must be outlined for the buyer. For example, the timeshare operator must tell a buyer if a Lake of the Ozarks vacation can be exchanged for an Alaska vacation only during December.

Complaints from Consumers

Complaints range from disappointment with a prize and high-pressure sales tactics to outright deception and fraud. Typical complaints include:

  • Not informing consumers they must listen to a lengthy sales pitch before receiving their "prizes."
  • Misrepresenting the facility's physical condition.
  • Misrepresenting the facility's market value.
  • Misrepresenting the facility's resale or exchange potential.
  • Making oral promises that were omitted from the written contract.
  • Including fees and obligations in the contract that never were mentioned orally.