FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA -- On September 12, 2004, my then fiancÃ©e and I purchased a time share unit at the Breakers of Ft. Lauderdale from The Berkley Group and financed by East Ocean Mortgage Company. We were offered a cruise and mini vacation to view their properties. However, to receive our vouchers for our hotel room, tickets to Universal Studios, and cruise, we had to sit through an "hour long" presentation that lasted four hours. We complied, even still, we were only given vouchers for the next leg of our trip and had to keep going back to their welcome centers to get the next voucher.
On the second to last day of our trip we arrived at the welcome center to pick up our vouchers for the third and final leg of our trip. We were told that the room would not be ready for 4 more hours but if we wanted to get a free lunch, we could sit though another presentation. He said that since we already turned the first one down and they knew we weren't interested, it would be brief and low key. We were hungry so we agreed.
The free lunch was a hot dog and a Dixie cup full of cola. The low key presentation was anything but that. The pressure was high. Every time we said no and asked for our voucher, a new person was brought over to talk with us. We were even ushered into a different room at one point to be informed of some exclusive deal. It was in this room where we witnessed one couple going into hysterics and being ushered out the back door. My fiancÃ©e joked that perhaps we should do the same so we could finally get out of there.
The pressure was intense and we had been there 7-8 hours. The exclusive offer they gave us would cost us $4,000, which is what we had planned to spend on our honeymoon to Costa Rica. We were told we would be buying a "very red" week and that we would have no trouble using it to go on our honeymoon to Costa Rica, since they had a resort there. We finally broke down and agreed to purchase. We were told that our deed would be filed with Broward County within ten days of our purchase and that we had a 72 hour right of rescission.
That, night after thoroughly reading the contract, my fiancÃ©e and I decided to cancel. We attempted to call the various numbers supplied, but could never reach a human being, so I left a message with my cell letting them know I needed an immediate call back since we had to check out the next morning.
Prior to leaving for home, we had an appointment to view the property. We arrived on site to be met by a sales person who showed us several other units but had "difficulty" in locating out exact unit. We were shown units that were "similar," at which point, we expressed our desire to cancel the contract. This sales person then pulled out a photo album and sat with us for over an hour talking us out of cancelling and showing us pictures of her friends and family having a great time using her time share. She reassured us that we had made a fabulous investment and convinced us not to cancel.
Shortly after we left her, we began talking about it together and we both still had an uneasy feeling like we had been conned. We began calling to cancel the contract again.
That day while still in Florida, and for two days after that back in Ohio, I continued to call their numbers without speaking to anyone and leaving messages. None of our calls was ever returned. Our 72-hour window expired.
We decided to make the best of a bad situation and go ahead and bank our unit to trade for the Costa Rican honeymoon we planned. We enrolled and paid our annual membership to RCI, but when we banked our time share, we received a message to call East Ocean because there was no time share in our name.
We called East Ocean to understand why that was, and they told us at first that it would take a few days before we showed up in the system and to wait another week and try again. That attempt also failed so we called again and were told that before we could use the unit we would have to pay taxes and maintenance fees which would not be due until after the 1st of the year.
After January 1st, we received bills for maintenance fees for the unit. My fiancÃ©e called Broward County to confirm that the deed had been filed in our name and learned that after 4 months, it still had not. We called the number on the bill and were told that a hurricane had damaged the County Courthouse and that there was a considerable backlog because of that. We told East Ocean that until they deed was recorded in our name, we would not pay taxes and fees on a unit that was still deeded to someone else. We were not going to pay taxes on a property we did not legally own nor were we going to pay maintenance fees on a unit we could not use.
We were then billed for taxes, fees, and late and legal fees, but still, when we checked, it was not recorded in our name. The collection calls started. We sent a letter stating our position to the collection company, which we later learned was also owned by Berkley Group. The deed was finally filed approximately 7-9 months after the purchase. One the deed was recorded in our name, I called to negotiate the removal of the fees. They flatly refused.
By this time, my fiancÃ©e and I had married and paid for a cheap vacation to West Virginia to go camping for our honeymoon.
We had considered stopping payments, but because my credit is key to maintaining my security clearance for my military job, this was a huge concern that caused us to try to find another option.
My wife took a job working for a company with a staff attorney. She gave him our paperwork and told him our story. He told her that we definitely had a case that was winnable, however, to prosecute it would cost us between $10,000-$20,000 and recommended that instead, we should just pay off the mortgage and sell the unit.
We agreed that we could not afford a lawsuit, so on July 14, 2008, we paid off the unit in an attempt to sell it. My wife spoke with the mortgage company and was told that it could take several months for the paperwork to be completed to receive the deed. When it still didn't come, I called to find out how to get it. I was told that they were holding our deed due to back taxes and fees.
We have never used the unit or traded our time for another resort. The verbiage in our contract states, pursuant to Florida Statute 721.13(6)(F), if we are "locked out" of our unit for unpaid taxes and fees, they, upon notification to us, intend to rent out our unit.
It also states:
"Proceeds of such rentals will be applied to our account, net of any rental commissions, cleaning charges, travel agent commissions, or any other commercially reasonable charges and usually incurred by the managing entity."
In fact, during our purchase presentation, we were told that this was one of the "nice features" of the deal with them. If ever we didn't want to use it or couldn't afford the fees, they would just rent it out and it would cost us nothing and sometimes we would even make a little profit, since whatever they got over the amount of our taxes and fees as a rental charge would be sent to us, since the unit was ours for that week.
I reminded them of this clause in our contract and they replied that they would only apply what was collected to our principal balance and not to any late fees or legal or managerial fees. I ended the conversation frustrated. We have not received any bill or statement from them in over a year. We have no idea what fees they have added to our account. If the taxes and maintenance are being paid through rental proceeds, I am not sure what fees they would be charging.
We have learned that all the companies we dealt within the debacle were all owned under the umbrella of the Berkley Group and include:
The Berkley Group (PARENT COMPANY)
3015 North Ocean Blvd, Suite #121
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33308
Allied Collection Service, Inc., Always Travel With US, Inc., American Federated Financial Corporation, American Mailing Co-Op, Inc., Berkley Aviation, Inc., Berkley Vacation Resorts, Inc., BGI Registered Agents, Inc., B. L. Registered Agents, Inc., B. L. Vacation Ownership, Inc., Centurion Resorts Corporation, Classic Home Center, Inc., Client Generation Services, Inc., Coastal Resort Associates, Inc., Cocowalk Development, Inc., Continental Credit Collection Agency, D. E.L. Marketing, Inc., Daily Management, Inc., Driftwood Beach Club, Inc., East Ocean Development Corporation, Edgewater Resorts, Inc., Eldorado Resorts Corp., Enchanted Isle Resort Condominium Association, Inc, Fort Lauderdale Beach Resorts, Foster/Seminole Subaru Holding Pond, Inc, Grande Resorts Corporation, Gulf Breeze Resorts, Inc., Gulf Breeze Resorts Realty, Inc., Harborview Corporation, Hollywood Isle Development, Inc., Hollywood Resorts Company, Intercoastal Resorts, Inc., International Data Networkers, L. L.C., J E L Consulting, L. L.C., Key Resort Group, Inc., L and L Marketing, Inc., Land Planning & Consulting, Inc., Lando Realty, Inc., Lando Resorts Corporation, Mexican Adventure Restaurant, Inc., Mizner Place at Weston Town Center Owners Association, LLC, Noble Resorts Corporation, Oakland Forest Corporate Center, Inc., Orlando Off-Site Marketing, Inc., Overlook Resorts Corporation, OWC-Fl, Inc., Pacesetter Consulting, L. L.C., Pacific Western (Myrtle Beach), Inc., Palm Beach Resort Development Group, L. L.C., Palm Beach Resort Holdings, Inc., Patriot Resorts Corporation, Patriot Suites, Inc., PPM Brokerage Services, Inc., Racquet Club Resorts, Inc., Reel Tight Sportfishing, Inc., Resort Associates or Palm Beach, Inc., Resort Time Share Incentive, Inc., Royal Grande Resorts, Inc., Surfsider Owners Association, Inc., Shoreline Resorts, Inc., South Coast Resorts Corporation, The Berkley Group, Inc., Tower Resorts Realty, Inc., Travel Opportunities, Inc., Travel Opportunities Associates, Inc., TriCom Management, Inc., Unique Resorts Corporation, Unique Resorts Realty, Inc., VVV Rental, LLC, Vacation Village at Weston Owners Association, L. L.C., Vacation Village at Bonaventure Master Owners Association, Inc., Vacation Village at Bonaventure Owners Association, Inc., Vacation Village at Parkway Owners Association, Inc., WesTView Resorts Corporation, Williamsburg Plantation, Inc., XBP Marketing Corp., Yacht Harbour Resorts, Inc.