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07/8/2016: Be careful in buying a time-share. Trying to sell it later can be hard

By Benny L. Kass

July 8 ,2016 at 7:30 AM

About 10 years ago, my husband and I were talked into buying a timeshare in Cabo St. Lucas, Mexico.

We paid cash and have always paid our maintenance fees. Last year, my husband had some extensive medical problems and expenses and is no longer able to travel. I wrote the resort and advised them we would return our oneweek timeshare back to them free of charge. My husband is 79 and I am 77, so flying across the country is no longer an option. We live in Maryland.

No one in our family can afford to take over the timeshare and companies claiming to sell it for us want large sums of upfront money. I don’t know which of these are trying to scam me or which ones might be legitimate. We have begun to receive debt collection threats and late fees for not paying 2016 maintenance. I fear this company will attach our Social Security and small pensions.— Lois

Your Social Security cannot be attached or garnished by any private creditor. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), "if a collector tries to garnish money in your account, the bank must look at your account history to see if you received any Social Security or VA benefits by direct deposit in the last 2 months. The bank must protect 2 months’ worth or benefits from garnishment and let you use that money. If your account has more than 2 months’ worth of benefits, your bank can freeze the extra money."

Incidentally, CFPB has a sample letter on its website you can use to tell collectors that your Social Security benefits are protected from garnishment. ( www.consumerfinance.gov ).

Getting out of a time-share is difficult. I have been successful a couple of times, where my client gave the time-share back to the sponsor, by paying a year’s worth of fees.

First, contact the time-share company, and plead your case. You should present as many facts as possible. Some- time share companies have hearts, but from my experience, most of them do not. (They should be sent to the Wizard of Oz!)

Here are two important things to remember: First, be very careful if you are considering buying into a time-share. Demand to see the sales contract before you sign and let your attorney review it. Years ago, I pretended to be interested in buying a one-week share. The salesman made it sound fantastic. I asked for a copy of the sales contract and was told "no, just sign it."

I modestly explained I am a lawyer and have a bad habit of reading before I sign. I threatened to walk out, but they capitulated and gave me a sample copy. More than half of what the salesman promised was untrue; for example, I was told I would get one week a year at a fivestar hotel; the contract gave me less than four hours at that resort.

Second, if you want to sell, do not — repeat, do not — give any salesperson or company any money upfront. If you are successful in finding a buyer, have the closing take place in your attorney’s office.

I realize my problem is fairly common and difficult to address. My neighbor has a diseased tree that could fall on my home.

We have had this ongoing saga for at least a year and a half and have compiled a rather large file containing various letters, photos and arborist reports.

At this point, we are resigned to sit and wait for the tree to come down on us or our property. My question is, are we safe to assume we will be able to collect from our neighbor’s insurance ? (He has been notified of the danger this tree poses and has actually put comments to this effect in letters to us — as well as comments voicing disregard for our safety.)

We have a historic home and at present do not have "replacement insurance." — Lesley

As I understand the question, your neighbor has a diseased tree and you are concerned it may fall and cause damage to person and property.

I appreciate that you are properly concerned about insurance coverage. But if the tree falls and kills you, what good is insurance? If your arborist is satisfied the tree is a potential lifethreatening hazard, I would consider filing a lawsuit claiming nuisance and a threat to your person and property, and ask the judge to require either that (1) the tree be removed or (2) the neighbor cable the tree so it will not fall.

Summertime is hurricane season, and we have seen very strong winds often all over this country. So I think that filing a lawsuit will at least get the attention of your neighbor, and, hopefully, he will be responsive.

Benny L. Kass is a Washington and Maryland lawyer. This column is not legal advice and should not be acted upon without obtaining legal counsel. Send questions to blkass@kmklawyers.com.

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