$40M timeshare reno headed for court

Timeshare owners at a Fairmont, B.C. resort are girding for a court battle over a $40 million renovation project.
Phil Polsom reads details of the $40 million timeshare renovation project he is being asked to help pay for. (Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Timeshare owners at a Fairmont, B.C., resort are girding for a court battle over a $40 million renovation project.

Phil Polsom is one of about 14,000 timeshare owners at the Sunchaser Vacation Villas.  Like the rest, he's being hit with a big bill.The resort wants $1,500 from him in a special levy for major repairs and renovations.

"I was shocked because we keep getting our increase in maintenance fees every year and we thought the maintenance fees have gotten out of hand," Polsom said.

Back in 2004 Polsom bought a 40-year lease on a terrace suite for $10,000.  His maintenance fee started at $420 every other year.

"We were assured that the fees that they were charging were reasonable and would cover everything that they needed it to do," he said.

Maintenance fees double

In less than a decade his maintenance fee doubled. Now, the resort said if timeshare owners don't pay the special levy the place could go bankrupt. The renovations include repairs to foundations and replacement of pipes, as well as cosmetic changes to the suites themselves, such as replacement of flooring and countertops. 

Polsom doesn’t believe everything in the plan is necessary.

"And we’re saying whoa, we didn’t agree to this," he said. "This isn’t what we signed on for."

But the resort has offered Polsom and the others an alternative. They can give back their timeshare -- if they pay an exit fee.  In Polsom’s case, $1,900.

"They want everybody to pay on top of the fact that they’ve taken all our money up to this point? I just think that’s absolutely ridiculous," he said.

The resort said it won't offer to buy back the timeshares because they are now impossible to sell on the open market and thus worthless. It's just charging people what they would have to pay if they tried to unload their timeshares through an agent, the resort said.

After timeshare units are given back, a chunk of the resort may be sold off to make it more financially viable. But the property's trustee is not sure that is allowed, so he is asking a judge in the B.C. Supreme Court for direction.

Timeshare owners organize

Meanwhile timeshare owners from Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C. and beyond are banding together to put a stop to it.  They number in the hundreds.

"It's important that they be aware of what's going on and that they understand their legal options," said Calgary lawyer Clint Docken. "And that if they're not happy with what's being proposed that they file an objection with the court."

Docken says he has seen a couple of other timeshare resorts in Canada land in similar bad straights. In those cases, the timeshare owners took over and ran the resorts themselves.

Meanwhile, the resort said it has heard directly from roughly 6,000 owners, and a large majority favour the renovation plan. Chris Bryant is among them.

"I have seen the engineering reports on the repairs and I agree to the assessment, though I had a tough time sending that check in last month", Bryant wrote in an e-mail.

An initial hearing is set for late June.

For his part, Phil Polsom said he just wants a fuller accounting of the money he and other timeshare owners have put in and how it has been spent.